Civil-servant cabinet way to go

Top News | Staff reporters 29 Jun 2017

The incoming administration of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor - made up mostly of civil servants - will function well, says tycoon Peter Woo Kwong-ching.

Woo, Wharf senior counsel and Wheelock and Company former senior director, told Sing Tao Daily that over the past 20 years Hong Kong politics had witnessed a "power battle" - first businessmen, then civil servants, back to businessmen and, once again, civil servants.

He said the ability to govern was not instant but, rather, a product of experience and training. Therefore, it was important to nurture political talents in the civil service.

But the system could use more fluidity and flexibility, said Woo, with no civil servant promoted too fast over a short period.

At the same time, there should be a revolving door for those willing to rejoin the government after leaving.

As the government had became a "hot kitchen," it had became difficult to recruit talent from other sectors.

But Woo said the line-ups of Lam's cabinet and the next Executive Council were normal despite containing a lot of old faces. Only six new members have been appointed to Exco, while the top three ministers - Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung - remain.

Woo said Exco has representatives from the government, elites, the Legislative Council and labor representatives.

Woo described the past 20 years in Hong Kong politics as a "battle for power," with the pro-establishment camp pushing forward the accountability system to combat civil servants, who they thought had too much power.

"But it turns out those in the pro- establishment camp did not want to be officials ... and now the administration returns to having civil servants at its core," he said.

In the two decades since the handover, there had been three constants and three changes, Woo said. The constants were: the capitalist system; freedoms enjoyed by the public; and the rule of law.

The changes were: British rulers had been replaced by Hongkongers; politicians who loved the UK and Hong Kong replaced by those who embraced the motherland and Hong Kong; and the appointment of the governor replaced by election of the chief executive.

He argued that people had the feeling that the colonial government was highly efficient due to the absence of opposition parties and the press monitoring the government.

But with an increasing demand for transparency and fairness, there were bound to be hiccups in governance. In fact, the presence of opposition demonstrated the success of one country, two systems, Woo said.

But when such opposition deteriorated to "malicious, pessimistic or even insulting" forces obsessed with criticizing China and the local government, this was bound to have a negative impact.

While some pointed to an electoral system allowing self-determination as the solution, Woo had his reservations, asking: "Is it beneficial for Hong Kong in the long run? People should know the answer."

Woo also said it was justified for the central government to speak out on political development in Hong Kong, adding it had the right to ensure there was no distortion in the implementation of one country, two systems.

Turning to the controversial Article 23 anti-subversion law, Woo said the government had to implement national security laws as soon as possible. "The clock is ticking," he said.

Woo said Article 23 was a constitutional responsibility and it needed to be done by 2047 before the central government took matters into its hands.

"Do it earlier, you have to do it anyway. Is there any harm?"



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