SCMP Friday, February 16, 2001

Best possible team to choose after Anson retirement shock


The appointments of Donald Tsang and Antony Leung to the two top posts give Tung Chee-hwa the best possible team he could have after Anson Chan Fang On-sang's shock resignation.
There will be doubts about whether Mr Tsang can succeed in Mrs Chan's role as a strong advocate of Hong Kong's systems and values. Similarly, concerns over Mr Leung's tough working style, deep business background and relationship with civil servants will remain despite yesterday's reassuring remarks.
But the new line-up should mean the Chief Executive will be able to balance the need to maintain continuity and confidence with the need for fresh impetus and new ideas in his ruling team.
Mr Tsang may truly believe the best option is for him to stay on in his current post. But while this would be least disruptive from the perspective of the civil service as a whole, it would be at the expense of the high stakes involved in the post of Chief Secretary for Administration.
While the administrative experience and credentials of senior officials such as Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Michael Suen Ming-yeung have never been seriously challenged, Mr Tsang is seen as the best possible candidate for the political and symbolic role to be performed within and outside the civil service after Mrs Chan retires.
Keeping Mr Tsang on in his present post, which he had hoped to hand over to a successor after delivering his fifth Budget last year, would renew speculation about what might have gone wrong in his personal relationship with Mr Tung and with Beijing.
It would fortify the theory that Mr Tsang had suffered the same fate as his close colleague, Mrs Chan, who resigned because she lost the favour of Beijing and of Mr Tung. Cynics might also see the least-change option as a show of resistance from senior mandarins against outsiders.
The promotion of Mr Tsang effectively dilutes the political sensitivity of the appointment of Mr Leung, as many agree there is no obvious candidate from within the civil service to take up his vacated job.
Given his strong professional credentials and moderate pro-China image, Mr Leung is one of the few close advisers to Mr Tung to whom senior civil servants will have to give the benefit of the doubt even though some might feel uneasy.
There is no doubt Mr Tung shared the view of some opinion leaders that the top level of the civil service should be open to talent from the private sector.
The basic instinct of senior civil servants against outsiders, plus the lack of elite professionals acceptable to the public and willing to sacrifice financial rewards, have created a cyclical effect.
Opening up more senior posts to eligible outsiders has been merely a talking point in the past few years. There are not too many who have been identified as potential candidates. Fewer have indicated an interest. The low popularity of Mr Tung has been seen as a negative factor in attracting talent.
The appointment of Mr Leung may carry far-reaching implications. He will open new ground for Mr Tung to strengthen his base of support in the 800-member election committee that will pick the next chief executive.