SCMP Saturday, April 28, 2001

Citizen Chan

It may not be today, as she walks into Lower Albert Road for her last hours on duty, that Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang feels a pang of nostalgia. That is more likely on Monday morning, when for the first time after 38 years, the office will be a thing of the past. When there are no controversial issues to grapple with; no ponderous reports to read.
After a career filled with incident, and with such exposure to the international stage, it will not be easy to adjust to the quiet life. If that is what she has in view. That enigmatic phrase in her speech to the Asia Society nine days ago, when she declared it might not be the last time she speaks up for Hong Kong gave an air of mystery to her departure. She added to it yesterday by saying "a chapter" in her public life had closed. Can she really be contemplating a bid to become the next chief executive? It seems unlikely, after her explanation to a press reception that if she spoke up from now on it would be from behind the scenes.
Revering the best traditions of the civil service, as she does, it is hard to imagine her stirring such controversy. From Sunday on, she is Citizen Chan. And like the rest of the electorate she will watch to see what changes come as Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa builds up his team, reforming a system under constant strain. Increasing accountability, toying with ways to tailor a ministerial system to the SAR's unique form of governance, while preserving the neutrality of the civil service is like trying to square the circle. It is a formidable task, and one which will involve much soul-searching in the months after the next chief executive is chosen in March.
Mrs Chan leaves a well-established service, staffed by many senior officials who grew up amid the same traditions as herself. If they follow her exhortations to "speak truth to power", and the harmonious atmosphere she calls for between legislature and executive is achieved; if accountability is extended right across the board, without fear or favour, and with no exemptions, all should be well. But she will still be missed.