The transformation of mild-mannered Hong Kong lawmaker Chan Kin-por into radical-baiting head of Legco's Finance Committee

In the space of a year Chan Kin-por has changed from low-key lawmaker to man on a mission as chairman of Legco's powerful Finance Committee

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 November, 2015, 12:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 November, 2015, 12:03am

When Chan Kin-por was elected chairman of the Legislative Council's Finance Committee on October 9, critics questioned whether the insurance sector lawmaker was up for the job.

That was partly because Chan's predecessors had struggled with the pan-democrats' repeated campaigns to derail several controversial funding requests from the administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

READ MORE: Hong Kong tech bureau: Legco committee sets limit on pan-democrats' bid to delay funding vote

Last year, then-chairman Ng Leung-sing faced a legal challenge after the government's funding request for a new town project was approved amid chaos, while the funding proposal for a new innovation and technology bureau was killed off twice by radical pan-democrats this year under the chairmanship of veteran lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan.

Chan won praise from his pro-establishment allies and officials when funding was finally approved on November 6 - it had taken him less than a month.

But Chan's "achievement" did not silent his critics, who said the lawmaker had set a bad precedent by slashing the pan-democrats' motions on the proposals from more than 1,000 to less than 100.

Chan has remained defiant about his decision, saying that while the Finance Committee's procedures allowed lawmakers to move motions without prior notice, he had to impose a cap to "ensure that the meeting will be conducted in an orderly and efficient manner".

In an interview with the Post, Chan also revealed that after he decided to run for the committee's chairmanship in the summer, he studied the minutes of the meetings chaired by Ng last year to remind himself what the key points of disagreement were between the chairman and the pan-democrats.

"Tommy Cheung usually preferred to talk to the pan-democrats to know how much time they were going to spend [discussing a proposal], but Ng was more inclined towards emphasising the legal grounds of his decisions," Chan said.

"I will learn from both of them. There will be lots of communication and my work will be more transparent."

Chan also said he believed that the government had a role to play to discourage radical lawmakers from filibustering.

"I am buying a round table so that officials can come and explain their funding proposals to me [because] the pressure should be on the government," Chan revealed. "If the officials do their job, answer the lawmakers' questions rather than evading them, it will be more difficult to filibuster."

Political commentators say that over the past year Chan has transformed himself from being quiet and low-profile to outspoken and critical of the pan-democrats' style in Legco - especially the radicals.

On two different occasions in May, Chan described the filibustering lawmakers as "scumbags", after People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip referred to his pro-establishment rivals as "dogs".

Chan admitted he had become "more aggressive", but he dismissed any suggestion that he had changed his style to pave the way for his bid for the committee's chairmanship.

READ MORE: All of you are b------s': Lawmaker explodes as Legco approves funding for long-awaited Hong Kong technology bureau

"I used to be moderate, but during the Occupy [protests] last year, many of my neighbours and middle-class residents told me to speak up because it was unfair [for protesters] to block roads in Central, which affected Hong Kong's competitiveness," Chan said.

The occupation protests lasted for 79 days last year from September to December, as students and pro-democracy activists blocked roads in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok to oppose Beijing's stringent framework on political reform. The protests deeply divided society, creating rifts that commentators believe have still to be healed.

But Chan's outspokenness came with a price.

On November 9, Chan was criticised after he said in a Commercial Radio programme that filibustering lawmakers should be "punished" by cutting their salaries as the election system made it easy for lawmakers to get re-elected with relatively few votes.

"The election system is deformed. It is possible for people to get re-elected with 20,000 or 30,000 ballots," he said.

When asked whether re-election was even easier for him as he was returned uncontested in 2012, Chan hit back and said: "You can try to run in the insurance sector. There are more than a hundred company [voters] and they are all CEOs. Don't underestimate the functional constituencies."

Commentators believe that Chan's remarks embarrassed some pro-establishment lawmakers, who were elected with fewer than 30,000 votes in 2012. Albert Chan was re-elected with about 44,000 votes.

Chan Kin-por later apologised to his pro-establishment allies and promised to speak "more carefully" in the future.

Chan was first elected lawmaker in 2008 by defeating Choy Chung-foo, former HSBC greater China insurance head, with 60 votes to 52 in the second round of vote counting, after incumbent Bernard Chan decided not to run.

Before he entered politics, Chan Kin-por was the chief executive of Munich Re Hong Kong, a job he took up in 2005 after working at Hang Seng Bank for 31 years. He was the bank's assistant general manager and head of the insurance group.

"I was very lucky. I grew up in a squatter area in Wong Tai Sin, my family was very poor and I had to share my bed with my two brothers," Chan recalled.

He added that although he did not go to university, he studied and was finally awarded his insurance licence in the early 1990s.

READ MORE: Lawmaker Chan Kin-por in battle over management of private Cyberport estate

"I started to work in the bank's insurance [department] in 1990" and witnessed a rapid growth of the insurance industry in Hong Kong, he said.

After chairing the Chinese Insurance Association for two years from 1998, and the Federation of Insurers for a year from 2004, Chan decided to run in the Legco election in 2008.

Having studied at a Catholic secondary school, Chan said: "I am grateful for the opportunities that God gave me, and I had to take the opportunity even though I knew it would be tough for me. At that time I also believed it would be good to work as a lawmaker to serve Hong Kong, because my life can be good only if Hong Kong is good as well."

Chan said he was not encouraged by the Beijing or local governments to run for Legco in 2008, or for its Finance Committee chairmanship last month. Those were personal decisions, "but many residents and my voters thanked me for running".

He was also the only person who could decide whether he would run for another four-year term next summer, he said.

"Many insurance company [bosses] told me that [an amendment] was just approved for the Independent Insurance Authority to be set up in the next two years. They said I am the most familiar with it and they wanted me to continue to monitor the government [in Legco].

"But the work in Legco is too tough, and I have to think hard on whether it is worth it to commit [for another four years]."