Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said in his policy address 11 days ago that the chief executive has two roles - as political leader and government administrator. As a government administrator, he said he had 'a reasonable grasp of the management and administrative duties'. But, in a thinly veiled self-criticism, he said there was 'bound to be room for improvement of the ... chief executive's mode and style of governance'. Mr Tsang's leadership qualities and governance have been called into question following a series of fiascos. Nine days after he ignored demands to raise the old age allowance to HK$1,000 and, instead, proposed means-testing applicants if the allowance were raised, he announced on Friday he had agreed to the increase - without means-testing. Since he floated the means test in his policy address, there had been a chorus of opposition to it from political parties, welfare groups and society at large. They saw it as effectively scrapping the allowance to which all aged 70 and over have been entitled for decades. What happened next followed a pattern with which we have become familiar this year: the government backed away from its original policy in the face of public pressure. A case in point is officials' about-turn on the disclosure of new political appointees' salaries and their entitlement to retain the right to foreign citizenship. Another is the decision to convene the Executive Council during its summer break to amend the details of a waiver of the levy employers of domestic helpers pay, after the initiative - announced as part of an HK$11 billion economic relief package - drew more curses than praises. Now Mr Tsang has slapped himself in the face. In defending his U-turn, he admitted the response to his proposal had been overwhelmingly negative and said standing firm would have caused more division in society. The chief executive insisted the government's proposal did not go against the principle of respecting the elderly, and said he still hoped the financial sustainability of the old age allowance could be examined in the light of Hong Kong's ageing population. As the government's initial defiance in the face of an avalanche of attacks showed, there is no doubting Mr Tsang genuinely believed he had done the right thing for his fellow citizens. So he deserves praise for having the courage to reverse his decision. Politically, he should have gained a sense of the depth of public anger about his stance when Tam Yiu-chung of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong - his closest ally in the Legislative Council - criticised him for having deeply hurt the feelings of old people. A policy U-turn will be painful and damaging to the authority and image of the administration. But at a time when a feeling of doom and gloom about the economy has gripped the populace, Mr Tsang had no choice but to allow what he dismissed as 'emotions' override 'rational debate'. That being said, there are grounds for serious concern. Policies are seemingly no longer formulated on the basis of factual analysis, rigorous debate and thorough consultation and engagement with stakeholders. Instead, they are increasingly shaped by political expediency. Mr Tsang has generally been seen as more sensitive to public opinion than his predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa. Opinion polls on a wide range of issues are conducted daily. The irony is that the Tsang team has not grasped the public's sentiments on issues such as the old age allowance, political appointments and the post-retirement job former buildings director Leung Chin-man took with a major developer which had been a beneficiary of decisions taken while he was a top civil servant. This may sound alarmist, but signs of a meltdown of governance augur ill for the city as it enters stormy political and economic waters.