SCMP Friday, February 16, 2001
Workaholic winner in one-horse race
After weeks of speculation, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's appointment as chief secretary for administration-designate comes as no surprise. As Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Michael Suen Ming-yeung said last week: "It is a one-horse race - and the horse is running round and round itself."
Mr Tsang is perhaps best known for his intervention in the stock market in August 1998 when he spent $120 billion fending off speculators during the Asian financial crisis.
His trademark might be a rather comical bow tie, but Mr Tsang is a workaholic who regularly puts in 20-hour days.
It has taken him 34 years to reach the top of the civil service, starting as a junior executive officer in 1967, the year when rioters were targeting anything British. He was promoted to administrative officer in 1971, although he had no university degree, and has since worked his way up the bureaucratic ladder.
In September 1995, he was the first Chinese to be appointed Financial Secretary. His fiscal philosophy was influenced by Sir Philip Haddon Cave, who was financial secretary in the 1970s and Mr Tsang's boss. Sir Philip was popular with his theory of positive non-intervention in the economy.
Mr Tsang's loyalty to the colonial government was rewarded in June 1997, just before handover, when he was knighted. But his affiliation with Britain was seen as a handicap in the eyes of Beijing's leaders, who cast doubt on his nomination when Tung Chee-hwa sought their approval to appoint him as the SAR's first financial chief.
Mr Tsang was born in Hong Kong in 1944, the eldest of six children in a working family whose only luxury was a television set. His father was a policeman while his mother sewed nylon bags to earn extra money.
Mr Tsang was forced to find a job instead of pursuing his education after high school, and while studying at Wah Yan College used to teach at night school to pay for his school fees.
Mr Tsang started work as a salesman for a pharmacy in 1965 before joining the civil service. That was when he gained a professional qualification as an interpreter.
His promotion to administrative officer grade - the elite among civil servants - in 1971 was the turning point in his fortunes.
After that he was posted to a number of departments including the Finance Branch, the Civil Service Branch and the City and New Territories Administration.
In 1977, he was seconded to work in the Asian Development Bank for a year, before returning to the civil service. In 1981, he spent a year studying at Harvard University, where he received his Master of Public Administration degree to make good his lack of higher-education qualifications.
In 1984, he was made deputy director of trade before being promoted to the more important and higher-profile role as deputy secretary of the General Duties Branch, overseeing the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which was signed in 1984 and sealed Hong Kong's future.
He was made director-general of trade and chief trade negotiator in 1991 after a spell as director of administration, heading all trade negotiations with foreign countries and steering trade administration in Hong Kong.
In 1993, he was made Treasury secretary, directing the overall resource allocation of the Government and being responsible for the taxation system.
When the financial secretary Sir Hamish Macleod announced his retirement in 1995, Mr Tsang was named his successor.
Mr Tsang is a devout Catholic who attends Mass every day. Parishioners of St Joseph's Church, in Garden Road, are used to seeing him on his way to morning Mass before starting work at Government headquarters just down the road. He prays in church before delivering his budgets in Legco.
Mr Tsang and his wife Selina have two sons, Simon and Thomas. His younger brother, Tsang Yam-pui became the new Police Commissioner last month.