Norman Chan Tak-lam, who played a key role in selecting political appointees, yesterday apologised and accepted responsibility for the controversies surrounding the new team. But the head of the chief executive's office declined to disclose the number of candidates he had recommended. Apart from the chief executive, Mr Chan was the only senior government official to deliver an apology amid the escalating row over the appointees' nationality and salaries. 'We could have done better. For example, this meeting could have been arranged earlier. Because of this, it aroused controversy. For this I wish to send my apologies,' Mr Chan said in a televised press conference. 'It is important that we learn from the experience and we learn the lessons. And we will keep on reviewing the way we do things and hope to do a better job.' On Thursday, at a media briefing with senior editors, Mr Chan admitted the government had underestimated the public reaction to appointees' nationality and salaries and said it could have handled the situation better. He said he had accepted responsibility but added that the arrangement for the appointments had been a collective decision. Asked how many candidates he had recommended during the selection process, Mr Chan declined to reveal the number. 'It is too sensitive, too obvious and inconvenient to say who had recommended how many candidates. I have recommended an extremely small number.' Mr Chan, who said he knew many capable people, said it would be unfair to the appointees who had known him before and were considered his proteges. 'That is simply ignoring their abilities and contributions in society,' Mr Chan said. 'The appointments have gone through a rigorous process regardless of whether I knew the candidates.' Earlier, he denied claims that he had picked only candidates with whom he had close ties. Of the 17 appointees, seven have connections with the Bauhinia Foundation think-tank, of which Mr Chan was the founding chairman. Asked if the issue might affect his next posting - said to be the chief of the monetary authority - Mr Chan said he would get his current job done and declined to comment on the speculation.