My Take

John Tsang – the most imperfect of our imperfect leadership hopefuls

Three of the contenders have flaws from their time in public service but it is the former finance chief, having squandered billions, who is the least qualified

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 1:17am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 8:46am

Among most pan-democrats, John Tsang Chun-wah is considered “the lesser of two evils” if it comes down to a choice between him and Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for chief executive. He is also, presumably, better than Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a dark horse in the race.

“Evil” is a strong word. For the record, I don’t think the three of them are evil in the theological sense of the word. But let’s play along with the pan-democrats’ semantics. I would think Tsang is the “evilest” of them all. Why?

Evil requires agency; you choose to do something bad. So what are the worst things that have tainted the government careers of the three leadership hopefuls? With Ip, it’s the failure to pass a national security law – required under Article 23 of the Basic Law – on sedition, secession and subversion in 2003, when she was security secretary. For Lam, the former chief secretary, it would have to be the democratic reform debacle in 2015. And for Tsang? His misestimates of the budget year after year leading to massive giveaways that are surely among the most wasteful in the annals of public finance. I would argue that Tsang has done far more damage to Hong Kong than the other two.

In Hong Kong leadership race, John Tsang and Regina Ip backtrack on national security, political reform

If you believe we have a constitutional duty to achieve universal suffrage under the Basic Law, then we have no less a constitutional obligation to enact a national security law. In fact, if we had done so in 2003, there would have been less mistrust between the city and the central government, which might have imposed a less restrictive framework on the failed electoral reform package. Ip didn’t pick the job; Article 23 was handed to her.

As for the failed reform package, once Beijing had imposed its restrictive conditions, there was nothing Lam could do as its chief “saleswoman” in Hong Kong other than taking the blame.

By contrast, Tsang chose to give away HK$220 billion between 2007 and 2014, most of which ended up going to the moneyed and propertied classes. And this is the guy who thinks we need to save for the future so we shouldn’t spend on welfare, health care or anything to improve our living standards.

For misusing the public coffers and impoverishing us at a time of plenty, I say Tsang is pretty much disqualified from the top job.