The farce that rejoices in the name of the political responsibility system has yet again demonstrated that it’s a dismal failure.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has just announced a slew of undersecretary and political advisor appointments, confirming that this system is little more than a sinecure for government supporters and a way of reshuffling the civil service card pack.
When the system was brought into being by the first SAR Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, he promised that it would bring a raft of new talent, specialization and fresh perspectives to his administration.
From the start, however, it was obvious that the system did nothing of the kind. A motley collection of Tung’s political friends were installed in office, pro-government parties were given the opportunity to reward their younger members and raise their profiles but by and large the “new blood” turned out to be the old blood of the bureaucracy as civil servants were transformed into newly hatched political officers.
As time went on and the new political appointees found themselves subject to more intense scrutiny (and damaging revelations), the enthusiasm to take on these posts dwindled, leaving the field open to a notably underwhelming set of candidates unable to find decent jobs elsewhere.
Who can forget CY Leung’s choice of Eddy Ng to run the education bureau, a man who eagerly consumed public cash to go swanning around the world on jaunts but was pretty much a laughing stock back home. Then there’s Paul Chan, who was actually promoted to become financial secretary after demonstrating a lively disregard for conflicts of interests in his previous job as development secretary and enjoys about as much confidence in his abilities in the finance job as would be accorded to the average school leaver. Amazingly, Nicolas Yang is also still in the administration, apparently running all things high-tech and doing so without the encumbrance of knowing much about the subject but he too sure likes to travel.
In the latest round of political appointments, Yang is to be joined by Lillian Cheong as his political assistant. She appears to be on a par with her boss in terms of familiarity with innovation and technology issues as she has a clean record for having made any kind of mark in this sector. However, she has a powerful sponsor in the shape of Rita Fan, one of Beijing’s favorite yes women.
Connections of this kind have also been helpful to Caspar Tsui, the new undersecretary for Labour and Welfare. He is a DAB member who on his first public outing in his new job revealed that he did not even know the level of the current minimum wage. “I have only been at work for a few hours,” he wailed when reporters asked him this “unfair” question. My-oh-my Young Caspar’s expertise in this area is likely to be priceless. But it’s a fair bet that he will be knowledgeable on one subject, the size of his own pay packet. For the record, that comes out at HK$217,000 per month.
The most controversial of Lam’s appointments, however, has been that of Choi Yuk-lin as the number two in the education department. Choi was soundly defeated when she ran for the education seat in Legco and some 17,000 people have signed a petition urging Lam not to appoint her. She is a prominent pro-Beijing figure who is believed to have been put in office to steer controversial patriotic education plans into schools. Her appointment is an effective way of turning the election result on its head and demonstrating that losers are winners in the Lam administration, as long, of course as they have the blessing of Beijing.
The low caliber of these appointees is emphasised by the departure of one of the very few ministers who was actually a success in the former administration. Ko Wing-man, the former health secretary, was not only the most popular member of the Leung administration, but he also enjoyed respect from a wide range of colleagues in this sector. Lam clearly did not want to be encumbered by anyone likely to become more popular than her, so Dr Ko has had to go.
Another of the very few political appointees to have enjoyed some success and popular support was Christine Loh who was the undersecretary at environment, bringing genuine expertise to the job and a well established track record for getting things done in this area. Unsurprisingly, Lam found no use for her continued services.
We are therefore left with the rather remarkable situation in which Carrie Lam’s administration sets sail with a bunch of “political” leaders who are even more underwhelming than those of the CY administration. That’s quite an achievement.
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