Frank Ching writes that Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung’s Executive Council “…is the first since 1997 with no representatives of big business interests. Leung has announced that the council will no longer break for the summer, but only recess for two weeks. He is a workaholic and expects members of his team to be the same.”
A Wen Wei Po editorial approvingly adds that ExCo meeting hours will be longer and states that the body was ‘passive’ in the last few years and “…members were informed only after principal officials finished drafting the bills and policies [so] non-official ExCo members were not able to fulfill their roles [and] put forward amendments and suggestions [and so] a number of policies introduced were not quite people-oriented…” (The following column, reproduced here at the bottom for fun, features an exquisite Communist rant about 7-1 marchers’ use of the British colonial flag and opposition to ‘national education’.)
One way of putting it: “…not quite people-oriented…” Under Donald Tsang, non-official membership of ExCo was a symbolic pat on the head. Academics, NGOs and think-tanks all reported a near-contemptuous rejection of any idea or proposal from outside his smug little ‘elite’ circle of zombie-bureaucrats. It is hard to believe that ExCo members’ views, if and when they had any, were of any greater interest to him. We do know that agendas and papers were sent out not long before meetings, and that the gatherings didn’t take too great a chunk out of non-officials’ Tuesday mornings. CY is threatening to extend them into day-long affairs.
Frank Ching’s comment raises the question of how you define ‘big business interests’. Bank of East Asia’s David Li – not known for enjoying lengthy meetings in which he is not the centre of attention – is undoubtedly a tycoon and was in Sir Bow-Tie’s ExCo until US regulators accused him of insider trading. If we go by size of real-estate portfolio, Li’s co-member then-stock exchange boss Charles Lee was as well, with “20 properties … including a 200-room hotel in Vancouver…” (Fans of such stats should watch this space for an update on how many apartments and parking spaces Arthur Li owns. Has he overtaken his brother’s last known tally of 82?)
Donald’s ExCo certainly had business people on it, but few were from the major league of tycoons (who nonetheless had their own malevolent influence on the leadership). CY’s business-linked non-officials are on average perhaps a bit younger and with a bit more Beijing exposure, but there’s not much in it. The key is that they are willing to be identified with CY’s housing and welfare policies, and they might have to put some time in.
CY apparently wants to assign non-officials to particular policy areas. CH Tung did this before, but nothing much ever came of it. Are they supposed to provide specific policymaking input? Or are they supposed to be wheeled out to support ‘their’ bureau’s plans, like the undersecretaries and political assistants? Like CY’s planned restructuring of bureaus, with secretaries and undersecretaries handling separate sub-portfolios, this might at least be of passing interest to students of organizational psychology.
Literally the day after assuming office in the late 1990s, Tony Blair’s new Labour administration in the UK gave the Bank of England independent control over monetary policy. Something similarly sweeping would be a good idea for CY’s team now. One example would be to declare that, starting from next week, the government will adopt the 2006 World Health Organization air quality objectives in favour of the less stringent 1987 standards currently used. Yesterday’s performance by new Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing in the Legislative Council was, instead, a big flop. Lawmakers complain that all he did was stick to the waffle provided by his civil servants – the people who have resisted meaningful action on this issue ever since Sarah Liao’s time in the Tung era.