Ever since the mass demonstration against the government on July 1, departures from Tung Chee-hwa's cabinet had been a distinct possibility. But when the resignations of the finance and security chiefs finally came last night, they were handled in a haphazard and ill-planned manner which bore all the hallmarks of this administration. The news that Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee was to go came first. Before that had been digested, came a fresh announcement that Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung had also quit. In the space of little more than two hours Mr Tung had been deprived of two of the pillars of his ruling team. In other circumstances this might have provided him with a platform to rebuild confidence in his faltering government. Mrs Ip was his most unpopular minister, having come to symbolise the government's stubborn and unresponsive approach to concerns about the proposed national security laws. Mr Leung, whose popularity rating was only just above Mrs Ip's, had been discredited by the scandal concerning his purchase of a car ahead of an increase in vehicle taxes in this year's budget. Both would have been at the top of most people's list of heads which had to roll if public confidence in the administration was to be restored. But instead of announcing the resignations at the same time - as part of a cabinet reshuffle, with replacements ready to take over - Mr Tung has, once again, given the impression that he has been overtaken by events. Last night was a classic example of governing on the run. The sense of crisis has deepened and the question has to be asked: what kind of government is he capable of forming now? questions raised The statements the chief executive issued paying tribute to the ministers raise more questions than they answer. In the case of Mrs Ip, it appeared every effort was being made to ensure that no political capital was gained from her resignation. This was not an answer to the call of 500,000 voices on July 1. It was not a reaction to the decision, made in the wake of the protest, to defer passage of the national security laws, which Mrs Ip had been trying so hard to push through. Nor was it even a response to a poll released on Monday showing that her popularity had plunged a record 18 points in a month, to the lowest level ever recorded for a senior official. Instead, it was revealed that she had offered her resignation on June 25, six days before the demonstration. Taking her statement last night at face value, it would seem that she made the decision in the belief that the security legislation would be passed on schedule and that her mission would therefore be accomplished. She resigned for personal reasons and was defiant as ever when commenting on her departure yesterday. The so-called Iron Lady expressed her regret that the laws had not been passed according to the government's timetable and added that she believed the work done over the past 10 months would provide a good foundation for their eventual enactment. If the events of the past two weeks had caused Mrs Ip to reflect on her handling of the laws, there was no sign of this in her statement. The firing of this final broadside, which is in keeping with Mrs Ip's uncompromising character, will be of little consequence. She will be gone in just over a week's time, after serving out her notice, and someone else will have to be given the task of selling the legislation to the public. But Mr Tung's response to the departure of his faithful servant suggests he too has not altered his approach in order to show he is listening to the public. Given the public outcry against Mrs Ip, he might have been a little more circumspect when reviewing her performance. Instead, Mr Tung described it as outstanding and heaped praise upon her, highlighting the security chief's 'exceptional abilities and great wisdom'. A more politically astute leader might have left the public with the impression he welcomed the departure of this controversial and unpopular minister. Instead he made it clear he regretted her decision and had spent the last three weeks trying to persuade her to stay. Such an approach is entirely consistent with the style of governance we have come to expect from Mr Tung. He is loyal to those who serve him and reluctant to let them go, even when their presence is contributing to the crisis engulfing his government. On a personal level, his approach may be admirable, but it does not help his government. Mrs Ip's resignation provided him with an opportunity to restore some confidence, but it was one he chose not to take. no plan Similarly, the decision by Mr Leung to quit does not appear to be part of any plan for a morale-boosting reorganisation of the cabinet. No explanation has been forthcoming, other than the Financial Secretary's statement that he felt this was the right time. The decision comes as the Department of Justice considers whether Mr Leung should be prosecuted over the scandal concerning his car purchase. But the right time for Mr Leung to go was in March when he first offered his resignation as a result of the storm surrounding the affair. Mr Tung chose not to accept it and stood by his troubled financial secretary. As yesterday's resignation shows, it was all to no avail. Mr Tung could only manage a few lines of thanks to Mr Leung for his achievements in the post. It is difficult to imagine what must be going through Mr Tung's mind as he prepares for a duty visit to Beijing on Saturday. Removing Mrs Ip and Mr Leung would have been a positive reaction to the discontent shown by the people on July 1. It would have shown him capable of acting courageously and decisively. It would have shown him to be listening to the people. By dithering and trying to keep them as part of his team, Mr Tung has only made his weakness and lack of leadership skills all the more apparent. More to the point, a chance to turn events which he did not welcome into a public relations victory has been lost. act decisively Instead of announcing a carefully thought out cabinet reshuffle, replacing the unpopular ministers with fresh talent, Mr Tung finds his team cracking around him. The departure of two of his most trusted lieutenants, however unpopular they have become, has left him with gaping holes in the cabinet. If finding newcomers willing to take on the challenge of injecting new life into the government was difficult a week ago, as it clearly was, it will be all the more problematic now. When Mr Tung unveiled the new ministers a year ago with such pride and hope, promising a new style of governance, he could never have imagined things would turn out this way. Hong Kong faces great challenges. We urgently need to find a way of solving our economic problems - tackling the fiscal deficit while at the same time creating jobs. There are the lessons to be learned from Sars, political reforms to meet calls for more democracy, and, of course, those national security laws. If there is one time when Mr Tung needs to show he is capable of acting decisively, that time is now.