INTERVIEWS start this month to find the first Hong Kong Chinese to be chairman and chief executive of the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC), but one of the widely tipped candidates ruled himself out months ago. Hongkong Telecom chief executive Linus Cheung Wing-lam, who was suggested as a suitable candidate by Chinese officials, said he was approached about the job several months ago but declined. 'I am very flattered, but my heart and mind are with Hongkong Telecom.' The present chairman, Hamish Mathers, is due to retire on April 1, and whoever is to take over would have to be appointed within weeks if there is to be a transition period. Headhunters from executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates are trying to find candidates able and willing to take on the high-profile job. The final choice has to be made by Governor Chris Patten, but if the next chairman is offered the usual four-year contract, Chinese approval would be vital because the person would serve under the future Special Administrative Region government. A senior government official said appointing another expatriate was virtually unthinkable. 'The MTRC has real problems over this because so many of their directors are expatriate. It has to be a local.' Senior officials from the MTRC and the Government said former secretary for transport and secretary for the treasury Yeung Kai-yin was a possible contender.