Cabinet reshuffle in Hong Kong highlights intrigue in the halls of power

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 July, 2015, 1:50am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 July, 2015, 9:07am

A mid-term cabinet reshuffle is one way to consolidate power and pave the way for re-election. But what happens to be the norm elsewhere looks unusual here. Over the past 18 years, the replacement of a minister has usually been the result of resignation or retirement. Instances of appointees being dismissed for bad performance are rare. Three years into his first term, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has taken the unexpected step of replacing home affairs chief Tsang Tak-sing and civil service minister Paul Tang Kwok-wai. Tsang's "inadequate" work on the city's youth was reportedly blamed as a factor in the Occupy protests last year, while Tang failed to nurture good relations with civil service unions.

However, the chief executive did not say the two ministers were removed because of their performance. With the government still grappling with the aftermath of the Occupy protests and its failure to pass the electoral reform package, it would not be surprising if Leung wants to strengthen his team of ministers.

Constitutionally, it is up to the chief executive to nominate principal officials for Beijing to appoint. But the replacements chosen, and the way it was announced, has inevitably fuelled speculation. The news came days after Leung had met the head of the state legislature in Beijing. Leung met the press after the reshuffle was announced but remained coy when asked about the reasons. This is further clouded by the ambiguous responses from the pair themselves. In a brief statement, Tang said he stepped down due to "unforeseeable family circumstances". But he said he was prepared to serve in another capacity in future. Tsang said it was up to the public to judge his work. But the 66-year-old said he was "glad to retire". It is believed that Tsang had wanted to leave after serving out his first term in 2012.

While the performances of Tsang and Tang may not be outstanding, both have served the government with dedication. If the chief executive believes newcomers can strengthen his team, it has to be wondered why some ministers with poorer performances are not replaced. Whether the reshuffle will lead to better governance remains to be seen. Newly appointed home affairs minister Lau Kong-wah has a tough job in working with the city's youth. New civil service minister Clement Cheung Wan-ching is also under pressure to improve ties with staff unions. If a second term is what Leung is eyeing, the question of finding the right ministers will continue to be an issue.