RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

Broadcasted on 06 January 2002 on Radio 3, Radio Television Hong Kong

Two weeks ago, in his Letter to Hong Kong, Mr. James Tien, the Chairman of the Liberal Party, explained why he would support Mr. Tung for a second term of office as the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Mr. Tien, of course, realized that Mr. Tung had not been a perfect leader during the last four and a half years, so he tried to put the blame on others. And this is what he had to say: "Right from the start, the civil service was insubordinate and rallied around the Chief Secretary, who had other priorities and perhaps unfulfilled ambitions. The result was a power struggle as administrators ganged up on the lone Chief Executive in nominal charge who could not even replace all his Executive Councilors. Instead of helping him, some hindered him." Now these are very very strong accusations against the entire civil service. Of course at that time, the Chief Secretary was Anson Chan and not Donald Tsang. There was not a single piece of evidence given to justify such a strong attack on the civil service. And I am shocked that these strong statements were not refuted, either by Mr. Tung or by the present holder of the office of Chief Secretary, Mr. Donald Tsang.

According to Mr. Tien, the public perception was that Mr. Tung was indecisive or confused. That must be right. And perhaps the clearest example was Mr. Tung's policies on housing matters. Right after his election in December 1996, Mr. Tung devoted a lot of his energy and time on solving the housing problems at the time. And after a long period of deliberation and consultation, he came up with his first major policy statement that the Hong Kong government would see to it that at least 85,000 residential units would be constructed in Hong Kong including both the private sector and the public sector. And when the responsible civil servants tried to tone it down and said that it was meant to be a long-term objective, Mr. Tung lost no time in correcting them, insisting that every year there shall be no less than 85,000 residential units built. Three years later, when Mr. Tung was interviewed on the television, he said, for the first time, that this policy in fact had not been in existence for the last two years. There was no deliberation on the sudden change of policy. What was surprising was not only the nonchalant way in which Mr. Tung announced the scrapping of this policy, but the fact that it was not the result of any consultation at all.

The next important decision on housing was in relation to the Cyberport project, namely, the sale of that residential prime site in Pokfulam to the son of Mr. Li Ka-shing, Mr. Richard Li, without going through the usual procedure of a public auction. That decision enraged 10 other property tycoons to such an extent that they found it necessary to hold a joint press conference complaining about it, realizing that the level playing field that we thought existed in HK was then tilting and tilting towards one particular family, of course, the Li family. The third important decision on housing matters was in relation to the sale of Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats. In early July 2001, the Chairman of the Housing Authority, Dr. Cheng Hon-kwan, said the Housing Authority would indeed continue such sale. On 3rd September 2001, the Chief Secretary, Donald Tsang, delivered a statement on housing, in which he said that the government would propose a 10 months' moratorium on the sale of HOS flats. And that statement was made, apparently, without the prior consultation with the Housing Authority, which on 24th of September 2001 sheepishly agreed to implement the moratorium.

If there was confusion indeed in Mr. Tung's housing policies, and I think many will agree that there was such confusion, whose fault was it? Let me cite two examples to show that indeed the civil servants were against some decisions of Mr. Tung. The first was in relation to the proposal of an overseas investor who wanted to turn Hong Kong into a "silicon harbour" and he asked, and Mr. Tung agreed, to give him a 5 years' tax exemption plus the supply of land. This apparently was objected to by the civil servants because they didn't want to start a precedent of giving tax exemption of this kind. So Mr. Tung's decision was not implemented. Another example related to the application on behalf of Hong Kong to host the Asian Games in the year 2006. Originally the civil servants concerned were totally against it. But Mr. Tung overruled the civil servants and instructed them to support the application for the Games. The public perception was that Mr. Tung did it because the person who really wanted Hong Kong to host the Games was Mr. Timothy Fok. And Mr. Timothy Fok happened to be the son of Mr. Henry Fok, the gentleman who bailed out Mr. Tung's company in 1985.

Of course Hong Kong was not ready to host the Games and we only secured three votes in support. I am giving these examples to show that sometimes opposition from civil servants was not only necessary, but good for Hong Kong, when we have a Chief Executive who listens too easily to the persuasions of people close to him. In seeking a second term of office, Mr. Tung appears to have secured the support of the great majority of members of the Election Committee. Of course, he does not enjoy such support from the ordinary people of Hong Kong. What about Beijing? The leaders in Beijing have come out in support of Mr. Tung for a second term. But if one were to compare the report card that Mr. Tung got from Beijing and the one that Mr. Edmond Ho, the Chief Executive of Macao, got, one would not find it difficult to see that Mr. Ho did much better in the view of the Beijing leaders. Indeed Premier Zhu Rongji gave Mr. Ho praises and awarded him one hundred marks for his leadership.

As for Mr. Tung, President Jiang Zemin praised him for acknowledging the shortcomings of his administration. Finally, let us look at how Mr. Tung looks at himself as a leader. He said, during a television interview, that a good leader should possess certain qualities, including willingness to listen to others' ideas, and determination to implement decisions. But he said that the most important quality was being a good person. He then added: "I hope I am a good man. A leader cannot be good unless he is a good man." Maybe Mr. Tung doesn't realize that not all good men are good leaders and that is the sad fact here in Hong Kong. In my view, a good leader gives all credit to his team but takes all the blame on himself whereas a bad leader takes all the credit himself and puts all the blame on his subordinates. Hong Kong can probably do without a leader. But even Hong Kong cannot survive long with a poor leader.

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