Two names we can do without
SCMP June 19 2011

Philip Bowring

Let us hope that Wang Guangya, head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, was not just listening to the faithful during his visit here, doubtless not unconnected with the 2012 decision on the next chief executive.

On another occasion, this column will look at the best potential candidates who would enjoy the confidence of Beijing and Hong Kong people and have proven records of integrity and leadership. This one will look at two much-touted names who should not be chosen.

Although the two seem very different people, a common thread runs through the rise to prominence of both of them.

They are the princeling offspring of important Shanghai businessmen who fled to Hong Kong in the late 1940s. Both owe their promotions more to these connections than to achievements prior to entering politics.

In that sense, there is a parallel with Hong Kong's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa- the major difference being that he was little known in Hong Kong but had strong overseas business links while they are well known in Hong Kong but almost unknown outside. The senior of this pair is Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, the daughter of Hsu Ta-tung, one of Shanghai's most prominent businessmen, who became the major shareholder of Dah Sing Bank, established in Hong Kong in 1947 as the communists were overrunning China.

She has been reported to owe her English name to her father's admiration for Rita Hayworth, an American film star of the era.

Fan was a competent but unremarkable academic administrator until becoming an appointed legislator in 1983 as a protege of Chung Sze-yuen, the industrialist who was senior non-official member of the Executive Council from 1980 to 1988, through the traumatic period of Sino-British negotiations.

Those were particularly hard times for those most closely associated with British rule, and Chung wrote later that Fan cried on the news that the British had conceded the principle of sovereignty and would leave in 1997.

But Fan performed a change of political clothes even quicker than most and became an ever present figure on mainland-appointed bodies, now most notably a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

Fan undoubtedly has a favourable 'auntie' image among Hong Kong people, just as Tung started as chief executive with a 'grandpa' image. Part of Fan's popular support derives from sympathy and respect for her fortitude in the face of the loss of her husband, a bout with cancer and her donation of a kidney to save the life of a daughter.

She also earned some respect for her calm and dignified performance as president of the Legislative Council for 11 years.

She is one of the few Liberal Party legislators to have been popularly elected.

But, frankly, at the age of 65, this is a thin resume for her to qualify as the next chief executive - a fine record in schmoozing equally with comrades and the business sector but scant experience of having run anything bigger than chairing the Education Commission in the early 1990s.

She is also on record as suggesting that Hong Kong needs a chief executive who understands the bureaucracy. Recent experience suggests it needs a leader who is not one of them and can get the bureaucrats to implement announced policies.

If Fan has had scant opportunity to show she can lead and manage, Henry Tang Ying-yen has surely shown during his tenure that he cannot. Many of the well-known failings of the current administration can be placed at his door, as chief secretary, rather than at his boss'.

Either he is incapable of considered decisions or lacks the interest or energy to see they get carried out.

His behaviour in the affair of the Harbour Fest also did not inspire confidence.

Worse still, he seems to have no understanding of why there is such resentment against the tycoons and anger at ever wider wealth gaps. He says the young should aspire to be like Li Ka-shing, not envious of him.

But the people know that almost all the richest men in Hong Kong derive their wealth from property not just because they astutely bought it decades ago but also via their cosy relationship with the main controller of land prices- the government- and through being awarded land conversion rights at giveaway prices in secret deals with officials.

This is the Tang version of capitalism. Tang would probably also rather not be reminded that some of his family's wealth came from selling textile quotas to businesses which did the real work. Quotas which should have been auctioned by the government were handed out to entrenched interests on a bogus 'past performance' basis.

That Hong Kong is full of entrepreneurial and ambitious people, be they in business or professions, is beyond doubt.

Equally beyond doubt is that the biggest riches have been acquired through proximity to the areas of the economy heavily influenced by government decisions.

A chief executive from a princeling background and with a political base either in business oligopolies or united-front opportunism cannot meet the needs of a Hong Kong which Beijing itself now realises is not being governed to the satisfaction of its citizens, or led by a person commanding respect.







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