As President Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong over the weekend, First Lady Peng Liyuan also reached out to the community and visited schools and kindergartens, and wherever she went, she was always accompanied by the new Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung.
Yeung, a former administrative officer (AO), quit the civil service five years ago and became a politically accountable official serving as the undersecretary for education. Now that he has been promoted to bureau chief, it is said that his success story has inspired a lot of other AOs who are eyeing higher public office.
Currently, Chief Executive Carrie Lam is still aggressively recruiting deputies for the various policy bureaus, and according to government sources, she has already succeeded in talking several senior AOs whom she favors into following in Kevin Yeung’s footsteps and becoming politically accountable officials.
Among them is Andy Chan Shui-fu, the incumbent deputy permanent secretary for transport and housing, who is widely tipped as the next undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs. On the other hand, Anne Teng, the current district officer (Eastern) of the Home Affairs Department, is also likely to become the deputy chief of another bureau.
Despite the fact that there is an element of risk in leaving the civil service and becoming politically accountable officials, some promising AOs still think it is worth the risk because it is probably the best possible way to fast-track their career in the government.
AOs have a definite advantage over other candidates when it comes to choosing deputy chiefs for policy bureaus because they are perfectly familiar with how the government bureaucracy works and can therefore hit their stride immediately after assuming office.
However, they also have a common weakness: they might be perfectly qualified for the job but they are not necessarily trusted by Beijing. Simply put, they might be good, but they are often considered not “red” enough.
For example, even though Andy Chan is widely tipped as the next undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, his promotion is far from being sealed yet.
It is because in the eyes of the Beijing Liaison Office, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau is a strategically important branch, and its new chief, Patrick Nip, is a seasoned AO without a strong pro-Beijing background. As such, it is said that the Liaison Office prefers someone else it can fully trust and rely on to serve as his deputy.
Therefore, for now, the jury is still out as to whether Andy Chan will finally win the job.
In the meantime, the Education Bureau is also considered by Beijing as strategically crucial, and therefore it prefers someone with a strong pro-Beijing background to serve as its deputy chief, such as Choi Yuk-lin, former vice chairman of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers.
Yet, when news about her possible appointment as the next undersecretary for education came to light, it provoked a fierce backlash among the local education sector.
However, given the approval of the Beijing Liaison Office and the widespread support of the pro-Beijing camp, it is believed that Choi stands a good chance of getting the job, even though she is disliked intensely by many in the local education sector.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 30
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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