Anyone with a poor track record and connected interests like Paul Chan is bound to raise questions about his suitability to be Hong Kong’s financial chief.
Chan was confirmed to the position by Beijing after he was recommended by Leung Chun-ying, following the resignation of John Tsang.
On Monday afternoon, Beijing approved the resignations of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and Tsang, paving the way for them to stand in the chief executive election in March.
Tsang tendered his resignation more than a month ago while Lam announced her decision to step down from her post last week. Secretary for Labor and Welfare Matthew Cheung will take over from Lam.
As financial secretary, Chan controls Hong Kong’s coffers and is a critical part of Leung’s spending plan.
As government projects take time, Leung’s spending program is likely to outlive his term in office, which means taxpayers will still be paying for them by the time he steps down in July.
Chan serves Leung’s purposes in many ways as the person in control of vast sums of money.
In fact, his appointment as financial secretary is only the latest in a series of moves by Leung to put his trusted lieutenant in a key position.
Five years ago, Chan was Leung’s preference for deputy financial secretary but the plan was vetoed by the legislature.
Chan was later appointed development chief in July 2012.
Chan has been one of the worst performing senior government officials in the Leung administration.
According to a recent public opinion survey by the University of Hong Kong, Chan’s net approval rating was negative 28 and his performance was rated as “mediocre”.
He has been accused of conflict of interest relating to his family investment in the New Territories and to a number of subdivided flats.
There’s no doubt he is a smart man, rising as he did from the ranks to the top of totem pole. He established his own accountancy firm and went on to become chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Some political observers believe Chan’s appointment could help pave the way for Leung to boost his ambitious public spending significantly.
That will leave Hongkongers on the hook beyond June 30, 2017 when Leung leaves office.
It is possible that Chan will keep his job if Carrie Lam is elected chief executive after she told a press conference about the need to “continue the good policies” of Leung Chun-ying.
But it is quite intriguing why Beijing approved Chan’s appointment in the first place.
You might recall that Beijing had wanted to keep Financial Secretary John Tsang after Leung was elected in 2012 in order to keep Leung from squandering Hong Kong’s reserves.
So what happened?
Did Leung strike a late deal with Beijing on Chan as part of his not running for reelection?
No one knows but some political observers say this was all part of some last-minute maneuverings behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, Leung’s upcoming policy address and fiscal budget could be an election platform for Lam which could further cement the public impression that Leung is the man behind Lam.
Assuming Lam wins, Leung’s influence is expected to linger for some time to come.
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