Now for the hard part: governing Hong Kong wisely

Mike Rowse has a four-point plan for the incoming chief executive, starting with dropping the bid to bar four lawmakers from office and standing up to rural vested interests

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 7:45pm

Congratulations on your victory in the chief executive election. Now comes the hard part: governing Hong Kong wisely and helping to heal the rifts that have developed in our community.

You have two periods of 100 days ahead. The first is the gap between now and when you actually take up office, the second is when you need to come out swinging and set the tone for your five-year term.

The healing can’t start until the wounding stops

Advice for the next three months is easy: stay out of the way and try to keep a low profile. Give yourself a break, get some rest, you’ll need all the reserves of sleep you can store up for the trials that lie ahead. Whatever the temptation, do not be drawn into commenting on current political affairs. The media will be pressing you on a daily basis to see if they can detect some slight difference between your and Leung Chun-ying’s position on an issue. Whether or not they succeed, the effect will be to undercut the present administration.

Now the plan for the first 100 days in office. Step one, if the court case seeking to disbar four more Legislative Council members is still going on, drop it. The healing can’t start until the wounding stops.

Watch: Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching react to being barred from Legco

Nobody has any sympathy for the first two who got thrown out, as they used foul language and showed contempt for our country and city. But these four were legitimately elected and Legco accepted their oaths. By challenging the president’s decision in court, the government in effect undermines him, even though he is regarded as pro-administration. It is a matter of public record that the government soundly lost the last Legco election: the opposition increased its majority in geographical constituencies, maintained its 3-2 majority in the super seats, and boosted its take from the traditional functional constituencies.

You need to reflect on why the government lost so badly and address the causes, not seek to overturn the verdict at the ballot box by questionable legal manoeuvres. And do not use the case as a bargaining chip, just instruct the justice secretary not to pursue it. If the case has progressed to a verdict before July 1 and you lose at the lower court, do not appeal. The worst-case scenario for you is if the government wins – the bitterness in the community at large will linger for your whole term. Press on with by-elections for the two vacant seats and be prepared to lose gracefully.

Hong Kong law on oaths must change before four legislators can be unseated, court told

Step two, you must show that you are prepared to confront vested interests and give priority to the public interest when it matters. Given the vagaries of our political system, and powerful forces entrenched in the election committee and legislature, there will naturally be allegations that the people who elected you have you under their thumb. This will be particularly the case with property developers and rural interests such as the Heung Yee Kuk. Fortunately, fate has presented you with a wonderful opportunity to shrug off these allegations and prove your independence.

Watch: Leung Chun-ying and John Tsang Chun-wah clarify their role in the Wang Chau project

Remember Wang Chau, where the government is pressing ahead with housing development on green belt land occupied by villagers rather than the adjacent brownfield sites where a local leader operates a profitable car park? This is seen as a classic example of bowing to private interests – almost nobody believes that the intention is to have a phased development. You can immediately grab some credibility: simply instruct the officials concerned to give you a firm timetable for phases two and three of the Wang Chau development within your term of office, and make a public announcement about that timetable. Stick to it.

If you succumb to the pressure prematurely, you will never recover your authority

Thirdly, get some decent ministers and make plain that you will hold them accountable. There were a few good ones in the outgoing administration, try to keep them if you can. There will be a lot of pressure from various sources to appoint certain individuals. You must resist unless completely convinced of their ability and loyalty to you. You are at your most powerful in this process in the week you submit the final list to Beijing for approval. If you succumb to the pressure prematurely, you will never recover your authority.

Lastly, you might want to ask people of all faiths to pray on July 1 for a successful administration. Even agnostics and atheists should be prepared to wish you well.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises. [email protected]