The so-called accountability system created by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is on the brink of collapse, even though he does not appear to be aware of it. Instead of working as a team, his principal secretaries and the five non-government appointees of the Executive Council are all running in different directions. Chaired by Mr Tung, his 20-strong de facto cabinet has virtually been reduced to a meeting of just a combination of a handful of members at a time. It is understood that the 14 policy secretaries have been reluctant to venture their views outside their respective portfolios, lest they trespass into others' turfs and offend their colleagues. The highest policymaking body used to be a venue for lively, thorough and yet confidential deliberations on matters that shaped Hong Kong's future. This is no longer the case, thus depriving the chief executive of opportunities to hear a wider range of opinions, especially dissenting ones. When former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee was in charge of promoting the Article 23 legislation, she was basically on her own to face the overwhelming public opposition. More recently, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong has also been fighting a lonely battle in tackling investigations into the Sars outbreak. This has been complicated by the reality that Mr Tung is hardly a decisive leader. In fact, had he responded more quickly to Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun's resignation from Exco in the wake of the July 1 mass protest, the government could have hung on to a majority in the legislature to see the revised Article 23 through. Mr Tien submitted his resignation letter to the chief executive around 6pm on July 6, after a trip to Beijing to clarify with Zhongnanhai that it did not have a deadline for the enactment of a new set of national security laws in Hong Kong. Mr Tung finally called a special Exco meeting at 11pm that night. By 10pm, however, Mr Tien's residence was already besieged by reporters eager to hear from the horse's mouth. During the intermittent hours, the chief executive did not bother to get in touch with Mr Tien to ask him to reconsider his drastic move, or to call an emergency Exco meeting immediately. Instead of taking a proactive approach to defuse the situation, Mr Tung wasted precious time in the initial hours as the crises unfolded. In fact, in an Exco meeting a day earlier, Mr Tien had already voiced his reservations about endorsing the government's post-July 1, three-point amendment to the draft. The Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) was behind the proposal. Mr Tien made it clear that he needed to consult five of his fellow party members in the legislature, who had been waiting nearby on the sensitive issue. Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-see and Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lun were thus tasked with lobbying the five Liberal councillors invited to a room next to the one where Exco was in session. While the officials' negotiations with Mr Tien and his comrades were still going on, the three Exco members were asked by the chief executive to join the other Exco members for a press conference to unveil the three concessions. That means when Mr Tung told the world that the revised draft would be enacted according to the original timetable before the assembly's summer recess in July, the Liberal Party had actually not yet given its green light. Although Mr Tien was present at the photo session, he opted to distance himself from the Exco decision within 24 hours. Mr Tung thought that a consensus was reached and he had the backing of the entire Exco. That turned out to be an illusion. DAB president Tsang Yok-sing, is another reason for the emerging disintegration of Exco. Rather than falling into line, Mr Tsang had been speaking against the administration's positions on issues such as whether to introduce a land departure levy. Unhappy with the current status of affairs, Hongkongers have turned to California for political inspiration. The economies of the two places are in a mess. Deficits are both high. Their citizens are discontent. That is where the similarities end. Unlike California, Hong Kong is not blessed with a democratic system to recall the head of the administration through universal suffrage. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be a greenhorn and is not the ideal candidate in the eyes of many. Yet Californians have enough faith in their democratic system to elect someone making his first run for office. This shows that the argument that the Exco lineup has the most experience and is therefore irreplaceable is just hogwash. Unless immediate steps are taken to address the people's aspiration for greater democracy, Mr Tung might as well end up in the cold with little support from both inside and outside his cabinet.