In Hong Kong, you are where you live because your residence pretty much makes who you are.
But for government officials, it’s more important how you live.
We cannot stop missing former financial secretary John Tsang, the always inaccurate budget maker and overcautious spender who lost the chief executive election last month because he failed to please Beijing and the heavyweights in Hong Kong.
But at least John Tsang is consistent in using public money.
He only spent HK$790,000 (US$101,660) to renovate his official residence at 45 Shouson Hill Road for 210 minor fixings over the past five years. In two months, his successor, Paul Chan, spent HK$830,000.
We criticized Chan’s hypocrisy because he seemed to forget how his predecessor, Sir Philip Haddon-Cave, reminded us that we should be careful with every penny, although Chan also repeated the sacred statement throughout his recent budget speech.
Unfortunately, Chan’s gesture spoke louder than words because he did not do the right thing at the right time.
With Carrie Lam serving as chief executive from July 1, it is doubtful if Chan will remain in his seat.
Lam is likely to consult former Hong Kong Monetary Authority czar Joseph Yam and former Securities and Futures Commission deputy vice chair Laura Cha for the best candidate to run Hong Kong’s finances. It’s unlikely Lam will keep Chan.
Lam herself spent HK$1.94 million in 2012 when she took over the official residence of his successor, Henry Tang.
Overall, she splashed HK$3.75 million, or an average of $750,000 over five years on the 1,342-square-meter Victoria House residence. The house is 50 per cent larger than Chan’s official residence.
On average, Chan spent more than Lam on renovations although he has only three months to go as financial secretary.
Chan also spent more than his boss, Leung Chun-ying, on a per-square-foot basis.
In the past five years, Leung spent nearly HK$30 million to renovate Government House, which is 10 times bigger than the financial secretary’s residence.
Leung spent an average of HK$667 per square meter per year compared with Chan’s HK$932 initial spending, not to mention his annualised spending.
Based on her track record, it is not Carrie Lam’s style to spend more than her predecessor in residence. Her husband and son live in Beijing anyway.
Unfortunately for Paul Chan, it is how people remember you, to paraphrase Law Wing-chung, John Tsang’s famous spin doctor.
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