My Take

It's too early to care about whether Antony Leung runs for chief executive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 4:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 4:18am

Antony "Lexus" Leung Kam-chung stands a chance of becoming the next chief executive in 2017? Well, at least Fred Ma Si-hang says so.

An ex-commerce minister, Ma is best remembered for contributing to a penny-stock crash back in 2002. Since quitting government in 2008, he has been a director of Li Ka-shing's Husky Energy, Hutchison Port Holdings, Agricultural Bank of China, Aluminum Corporation of China, China Mobile and the MTR. Given his influence and connections, he is a man who knows these things. Leung may have a shot in 2017, but there is the small matter of possible universal suffrage.

But wait, it gets better. Failed chief executive candidate Henry "Basement" Tang Ying-yen yesterday threw his weight behind Leung, saying Leung is "qualified" for the top job. What is this, the revenge of the back-from-the-dead Tung Chee-hwa brigade? Mediocre as ministers, they want a second chance as kingmakers and as king. Leung quit in 2003 after he was exposed buying an expensive Lexus for his young wife, the Olympic diving queen Fu Mingxia, before he raised first registration tax on new vehicles. But what exactly did the career banker and later private equity guy accomplish as finance chief during his short two-year tenure? He was one of the brains behind Tung's austerity drive during those long years of deflation when the government had had several rare budget deficits, followed by conservative surpluses despite false official warnings.

He responded by cutting civil servants' salaries, justified for the upper echelon but affecting mostly those in lower levels, and reducing social expenditure, from health care and education to social welfare and university funding. A strong case can be made that the Tung-Leung team inflicted greater pain on the community than warranted. The pair would feel right at home in austerity-driven, growth-deficient Europe today. To revive the economy after the Sars outbreak, he helped come up with the wasteful HarbourFest fiasco.

He was, however, instrumental in creating the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) with the mainland, which helped boost the local economy but whose benefits have consistently been overstated by officials. His record? It's less than stellar and at best ambiguous.