New chairman 'blow' to sustainability group Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has infuriated members of the Council for Sustainable Development by giving it an independent chairman in place of outgoing Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan. Council vice-chairman Edgar Cheng Wai-kin replaces Mr Hui as chairman of the advisory body today after the former minister was removed from the government in Mr Tsang's ministerial reshuffle last weekend. Dr Cheng's appointment was announced yesterday along with the transfer of the sustainable development portfolio from the Chief Secretary's Office to the new Environment Bureau - in line with the departmental shake-up that accompanied the reshuffle. Council members from across the political spectrum denounced the move as 'downgrading' the body, undermining its credibility and weakening government support for sustainable development. Choy So-yuk, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who has been on the council since 2003, said: 'This latest move represents a downgrading of the council and it undermines the government's commitment to sustainable development. 'It is not right for the government to do this. This is not only an environmental issue, it also involves governance, which requires a high-ranking official to oversee the process.' Council subcommittee member Albert Lai Kwong-tak said: 'It is a great leap backwards. This is an institutional blow to the credibility of the council. It is more than a withdrawal from sustainable development, it is a rejection of it.' Mr Lai said the new arrangements showed no sign of any support from the chief executive or the council or any institutional links between the government and the council. The council chairman was not just a symbolic figure, he said. He or she could mobilise public support, and making the post non-governmental would prevent the post-holder from performing this role. A government spokesman said the appointment of an independent chairman and transferring the council to the new Environmental Bureau were complementary moves designed to increase the commitment to sustainable development. They would strengthen the 'stakeholder-led process' in the council and help ensure more 'professional input' into the process by merging the council's secretariat with the former Environmental Protection Department. The spokesman also said an 'enhanced stakeholder-led process' was in line with the chief executive's commitment to greater public participation in the formulation of policies. Dr Cheng, who headed the government's Central Policy Unit under former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, has been appointed chairman until February 28, 2009. The council advises government on sustainable development and supports community action by handing out grants.