Wang Chau housing saga

Political ambitions must not be allowed to harm governance

Controversy over Yuen Long housing project has exposed a rift at the top of our government at a time when unity is needed to meet our many challenges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 12:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 12:31am

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying called a special press conference to take ultimate responsibility for a public housing controversy that was damaging the image of his government and from which other top officials had already distanced themselves. It is good that he and senior members of the administration faced the media after questions were raised about the scaling back of a housing project in the New Territories to what the government insists is a phased development.

But if the press conference was intended to be a show of unity by the government, it backfired. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah looked uncomfortable and hardly made eye contact with Leung as he and other officials detailed the decision-making process. His answer to a question about his own part in the affair – “you always agree with your boss” – might have been a moment of light relief from political pressure. Instead, it was widely seen as irony and therefore interpreted as a signal of his differences with the chief executive.

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This reflects a perception that Leung, Tsang and also Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor do not see eye-to-eye with one another more often than is good for the unity and cohesion of the government. That is grounds for concern at any time, but more so now. After all, we know it is at least possible if not very likely at this stage that Tsang, Leung and maybe Lam will emerge before long as candidates for election as chief executive in March.

Politics can be a dirty business. It is only natural that they will begin to think about positioning themselves in advance. They may not have shown their hand but it is important at the highest levels of government that they put these sorts of ambitions aside while they face up to the many challenges confronting Hong Kong – externally and internally, political, social and economic. Hong Kong needs a united team to lead it forward, undistracted by finger pointing. A good start would be to find common ground for a clear public position on important issues that avoids the confusion and concern sparked in this instance.