Ng Leung-sing: Old hand or yesterday's man?

Critics say Finance Committee chair Ng Leung-sing is in over his head

Ng Leung-sing took Finance Committee chair after eight years out of politics. Now he faces a battle his critics say he lacks the skills for

If, as they say, a week is too long in politics, then what does that say about a gap of eight years outside the corridors of power?

For Ng Leung-sing, who quit politics for eight years before making a return two years ago, that gap seems to have left him out of touch with today's political ecology.

The gentle, low-profile banker and legislator, who chairs the Finance Committee which scrutinises government funding requests, has become engulfed in a political storm over his handling of meetings - or, more precisely, his failure to handle them.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People's Party has publicly asked him to step down and let his deputy, Democrat Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, chair the meetings.

Ip Kwok-him, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, expressed discontent with Ng's work.

"Maybe he lacks experience in dealing with such situations. He had been a legislator before. But chairing an important meeting like the Finance Committee requires one to be familiar with the meeting rules and other meeting skills. It is a totally different experience from sitting in a member's seat and raising questions."

Ng however, did not think it was a good idea to let his deputy chair the meetings.

Dr James Sung Lap-kung, a political scientist at City University, said: "Ng left politics for some eight years. He obviously cannot adapt to the new ecological system."

The situation Ng has faced recently involves the government's funding request for HK$340 million for surveying and engineering work on the planned development of new towns in Kwu Tung and Fanling North.

The issue has led to a deadlock at the Finance Committee because of opposition from pan-democrats. A radical faction has vowed to use any means necessary to block the plan, declaring "war" on the government.

At a meeting on June 13, Ng tried to end a filibuster by restricting the speaking time of committee members. The move sparked another round of debate inside the chamber and also angered protesters who were rallying outside the Legislative Council building. The protests degenerated into violence.

Ng was also forced to adjourn last Friday's meeting without a vote, after hours of debate over his ruling to refuse new motions put forward by pan-democrats.

Ng defended his decision, saying: "As the chairman, I have the responsibility to ensure a meeting proceeds efficiently. I cannot let it drag on and on."

Lau said Ng should have let members express their views fully before taking a vote. "It is not about filibusters. It is legislators' responsibility to ask questions and ask government to clarify before they decide to agree or disagree on a funding request."

Lau was the Finance Committee chairman during the debate over the controversial high-speed railway project in late 2009 and 2010, during which pan-democrats used delaying tactics to stall voting.

She said: "At that time, the government was very cooperative. I allowed all the members to ask all their questions before a vote. Eva Cheng [Yu-Wah, the then secretary for transport and housing] told me that the government would be pleased to answer all questions before a vote. But now, the government just wants us to rubber stamp the funding request."

Ng is well known on the local political scene, although some consider him yesterday's man.

He was a representative of the Chinese side of the Sino-British Land Commission between 1988 and 1997. The commission was created in accordance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration for the protection of land rights and for land leases granted by the pre-handover government.

In 1994, the commission reached an agreement to grant the land for the new airport at Chek Lap Kok, and for the airport railway.

In 1996, Ng was elected a member of the provisional legislative council, an interim legislature from 1997 to 1998 set up after Beijing rejected British electoral changes made in 1995.

In 1998 and 2000, he won a seat in the first and second terms of the post-handover Legislative Council. During that time, Ng and other non-affiliated lawmakers often gathered for breakfast at the China Club - opposite the old Legco chamber in Central - to discuss issues. They became known as the Breakfast Group.

The clique of lawmakers was dissolved after Ng and another core member, Eric Li Ka-cheung, who represented the accountancy sector, quit politics in 2004.

In a 2004 interview, Ng said he quit because he had "accomplished the historical mission". Asked if he would try to run in direct elections, he said: "I am afraid I am not suitable."

In 2012, Ng ran for the financial-sector seat in the legislature, taking over from David Li Kwok-po of the Bank of East Asia, who stood down after 27 years as a lawmaker. Li said in 2012 that politics was "a waste of time" and "I wish I had never entered".

At that time, Ng said of his comeback: "The political ecology nowadays is very different from that in 2004. Nowadays, one has to be prepared to contribute much more time to the council work if one wants to be a legislator. In addition, he or she must show up at meetings on time."

Last year, Ng defeated Lau in a 40-23 vote to be the chairman of the Finance Committee, succeeding Tommy Cheung Yu-yan of the Liberal Party.

But he has been criticised for being unfamiliar with meeting rules.

In an unusual move, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau last month had to write to Ng to ask him to apply a meeting rule to head off a filibuster planned by the People Power duo of Raymond Chan Chi-chuen and Albert Chan Wai-yip, and Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the NeoDemocrats.

The bureau told Ng that he could consider whether any motion was directly related to the agenda item, and if so, whether a majority of members agreed it should proceed.

Using this advice, Ng cut the number of members' motions from 720 to nine. But the opposition camp changed its tactics and the filibuster went on.

"Obviously, Ng does not have the political skills to handle the present situation," Sung said.

He did not expect an end to the current saga at the Finance Committee to come any time soon.

"Caught between a rock and a hard place, Ng is going to have a hard time ahead," Sung said.

But Ng appears unrepentant about his performance as chairman. "I have no regrets," he said.

"I work for the interest of the community."


Ng Leung-sing

65, born in July 1949

Heung To Middle School; diploma in Chinese law, University of East Asia, Macau

Bank of China (Hong Kong) trustees chairman; Chiyu Banking vice-chairman; SmarTone Telecommunications non-executive director

Representative on Sino-British Land Commission; trustee of Hong Kong Land Fund
Housing Authority member
Legislative Council member
MTR Corporation independent non-executive director
Legco member

Appointed Justice of the Peace
Awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star

Married to Chan Sau-han, with a daughter and a son

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Old hand or yesterday's man?