Yesterday's Exco reshuffle spoke volumes about the political conundrum facing Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. He knew he had to deliver on his pledge in his latest policy address to bring in new faces to the top advisory body to help promote effective governance and shore up public trust in the government. And with the administration's popularity hovering in an uncomfortable area, naming prominent, fresh names to his team could help boost the feel-good sentiment. That said, Mr Tsang also understood well that the political and practical effects of his Exco reshuffle gambit have become increasingly marginal, if not insignificant, in view of the profound changes in Hong Kong politics. A senior government official hit the nail on the head when he admitted government popularity would hardly rise by several percentage points even if a pan-democrat rival was appointed to Exco. It is bordering on political naivety to suggest that Mr Tsang and his advisers held out hopes that the appointment of Lau Wong-fat, who represents rural body the Heung Yee Kuk in Legco, would increase their political capacity in dealings with the legislature. Faced with a more fragmented legislature and a more volatile political atmosphere, Mr Tsang has apparently dropped the idea of co-opting his major allies in Legco onto Exco. Superficially, the new appointments signal a return to the approach adopted by the pre-handover and Tung Chee-hwa administrations by filling Exco seats with elite members. With their professional expertise and social standing, the Exco non-official members have acted as gatekeepers and troubleshooters for policies being drawn up by policy bureaus. The practical role of non-official Exco members has been in doubt following the introduction of the so-called accountability system in 2002, under which political responsibility for policies primarily rests with the relevant ministers. Much has been said since then about making better use of the knowledge and experience of non-official members to help improve governance. The essence of governance has been boiled down to three 'Ps': politics, policies and public relations. None of the five new Exco faces have been a PR coup. It will be a tall order for them to help solve the government's political predicament, but no small achievement if they help raise the quality of policies.