21 April 2019
Leung Chun-ying (left) finds dealing with the media a headache, while John Tsang (with selfie stick) is more comfortable with journalists. Photos: Ming Pao, Government Information Services
Leung Chun-ying (left) finds dealing with the media a headache, while John Tsang (with selfie stick) is more comfortable with journalists. Photos: Ming Pao, Government Information Services

John Tsang steals the show with Occupy subsidies

Leung Chun-ying’s policy address earlier this year is being stacked up against John Tsang Chun-wah’s recent budget announcement.

The policy address from a faithful Beijing lackey compares poorly with the budget speech from a veteran civil servant who started his official career in the colonial era.

The annual policy address — from the time of the British governors to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Leung’s predecessor as chief executive — used to be delivered in early October, at the start of the new legislative year.

Normally people wouldn’t link it to the corresponding budget, which wouldn’t be announced until the following March, at the start of the new financial year.

Donald Tsang was the financial secretary, the first Chinese to hold the post, during the governorship of Chris Patten. Thanks to Hong Kong’s buoyant economic development back then, his budgets were rated highly by the public, yet Patten’s policy address was still the prime focus of each legislative year.

But in the two years before the handover in 1997, Patten took a back seat and yielded the headlines to Donald Tsang and other local officials.

To work in tandem with the financial secretary, the city’s top official needs wits and experience.

The first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was a mere figurehead in financial affairs. He lacked knowledge of the traditions, bureaucracy and decision-making process of the financial departments, let alone any substantial authority over the financial secretary.

Following Anson Chan Fang On-sang’s resignation in 2001, Donald Tsang became chief secretary for administration, and financial officials became more prominent within the government.

During his tenure as chief executive, Donald Tsang practically oversaw the drafting of all the seven budget speeches and ensured that specific measures put forward in the budget would be consistent with the broad policy strokes laid out in his policy address.

All this has changed since Leung took office in 2012.

Apparently because of Leung’s inability to form a decent cabinet, John Tsang, who became financial secretary in 2007, was asked to serve another term.

Educated at a local elite school and at universities in the United States, John Tsang – an old-line official representing the manner and logic of governance inherited from colonial times – is noted for his charm and approachable demeanor.

The contrast cannot be starker with the long-faced Leung, who insists on issuing stuffy, sternly worded warnings and pontificating to his constituents.

It’s said that Leung deliberately postponed his policy address to right before the announcement of the budget so that Hongkongers will think he is the real boss and John Tsang must follow closely his policy stance.

Yet sadly, only a month after Leung’s latest policy address, no one bothers to mention it any more.

Leung stressed in a statement that John Tsang’s budget “reaffirms the agenda of the government”. That statement has become a popular object of sarcasm at lunchtime among officials and businessmen.

In his budget, the financial secretary launched a set of short-term measures to support businesses affected by last year’s Occupy movement.

Although I don’t know who within the government proposed such a policy, I must applaud this brilliant idea.

Like any other civil disobedience movements, Occupy was all about the fight for justice and the well-being of society.

Despite the statistically proven fact that Hong Kong suffered marginal economic losses, some retailers in the protest zones or franchised bus companies with affected routes may have indeed taken a hit.

Many of the businesspeople affected may be advocates of genuine universal suffrage, too, and some may just be indifferent to it.

But if they have to suffer losses from a democracy campaign, they are more likely to question the movement, or even oppose it, notwithstanding that they also stand to gain from a more liberal and democratic society.

Now the government’s support measures come as timely relief.

Those affected will at least cheer up a bit. They will also expect compensation if similar incidents happen again. Their resistance to pro-democracy demonstrations will lessen, or even disappear.

It’s also noteworthy that these measures apply to all travel agents, restaurants, hotels and taxi and bus operators, with numerous waivers of license and examination fees for a period of six months to a year.

That means those not affected by Occupy also stand to benefit as a result of the protests. Next time, they will have fewer concerns.

It’s possible that the retailers affected may have demanded support from the government.

But I guess the officials behind this well-thought-out plan must have withstood pressure from Leung and his radical loyalists when mulling over the initiatives.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Mar. 2.

Translation by Frank Chen

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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