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Tsang picks political lightweights for Cabinet

Bonnie Chen

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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A director of a media group hostile to the establishment, a woman who once sued the government and an heiress whose father was behind the biggest race-fixing scandal in Hong Kong history have been appointed to the Executive Council.

The mixed bag of Beijing-approved appointments announced yesterday has been described by pundits as politically lightweight and unlikely to win the hearts of the public.

But Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said the five appointees will help boost economic cooperation with the mainland.

The new members of Tsang's Cabinet include V Nee Yeh, who on his appointment stepped down as a non-executive director of Jimmy Lai Chi- ying's Next Media Group, and outspoken former Equal Opportunities Commission head Anna Wu Hung-yuk.

They join Chinese University vice chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee, Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat and textile businesswoman Marjorie Yang Mun-tak. The appointments are effective from today.

"They all have a thorough appreciation of the rapid development of the mainland," said Tsang, adding they will have a positive impact on Hong Kong's involvement with the mainland and the Pearl River Delta region.

None of them has a political background and Tsang said their appointments are not an attempt to secure votes in the Legislative Council.

Yeh, 49, who is also a substantial stakeholder and founder of local fund house Value Partners said he would like to see universal suffrage as soon as possible within the provisions of the Basic Law. But he refused to discuss his ties with Jimmy Lai.

Yeh's family owns Hsin Chong Construction which has been involved in many major government infrastructure projects.

The company was banned from bidding for government contracts between 1999 and 2002 following a scandal over short-piling.

Wu, who once sued the government on an equal opportunities matter, is closely allied to the pan- democrat camp.

"I am a strong advocate for democracy which has a broad definition and I can't compare my standards with that of others," Wu said.

Textile heiress Yang, who is currently overseas, said in a statement she believed her experience could help the government formulate industrial and economic policies. She too has stepped down from several directorships.

Her late father, tycoon Yang Yuan-loong, was convicted of being behind Hong Kong's biggest race-fixing scandal - the so-called Shanghai Syndicate - but escaped jail in 1986 by saying he was weeks away from death. He went on to live a life of luxury until he died in 2007.

Lau Wong-fat said stability is essential for Hong Kong's political reform, adding that his appointment had nothing to do with his quitting the Liberal Party to allow a pro-Beijing party candidate to win in last year's Legco elections.

Lawrence Lau said he was joining Exco in a personal capacity and there would be no conflict of interest between his position, the university and students. He has renounced his US passport and the university said he would step down as vice chancellor when his term is up in 2010.

Tsang denied he found it difficult to find people interested in joining his Cabinet. Chinese University commentator Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the new Exco may not win the hearts of the public and is the weakest politically since the handover.


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