Tsang Tak-sing is down but not out

July 23, 2015 15:37
Many members of the pro-Beijing camp are puzzled why Tsang Tak-sing (right), a traditional leftist, was asked to resign his post. Photo: HKEJ

Spare a thought for senior government officials, down whose spines a chill ran after the abrupt departure of Home Affairs Bureau chief Tsang Tak-sing.

The 66-year-old patriot who had won the trust of Beijing – evidenced by his serving under three different chief executives – is taking an unexpected summer holiday after his boss excused him from duty and replaced him with a less popular and less senior leftist.

Who could have predicted that Tsang, a former Ta Kung Pao editor who had been jailed by the British as a student during the 1967 uprisings, would end his storybook career by being laid off?

Tsang has not spoken in public since Tuesday, but he was quoted as saying he was happy to retire now.

His elder brother, Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, said Tsang had not asked to quit.

Ministerial departures are often presented as voluntary resignations due to personal or health issues, but that was a luxury denied Tsang.

Instead, after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced the cabinet reshuffle, pro-government media outlets spread the word that Tsang had been seen as failing to perform his duties adequately, especially as regards the proper development of Hong Kong's youth, which eventually led to the Occupy movement last year.

Among administrative officers and members of the pro-establishment camp, many questions linger about what was in Leung’s mind, given Tsang’s nearly impeccable service record.

After all, when Tsang indicated in 2012 that he preferred to leave the government, Leung, the incoming chief executive, asked him to stay.

During his eight years at Home Affairs, Tsang may not have been the administration's best minister, but he was far from the worst.

There are two main criticisms leveled against Tsang.

First, running a welfare organization that employed four dozen administrative officers in Hong Kong's 18 districts, Tsang failed to gain public support and to groom respectable pro-government groups.

He was not a man who liked to communicate with his stakeholders, critics said.

Secondly, he overspent the East Asian Games budget by HK$120 million (US$15.5 million) in 2009.

If these were the two worst things that could be said about a minister over an eight-year term, I would safely conclude he would be one of the all-time most popular ministers.

His staff certainly liked him. One of his deputies, Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, posted a photo on Facebook showing how much they miss him.

His other deputy, Florence Hui Hiu-fai, who was a leading candidate for the head of Leung's proposed cultural bureau, was reported to be ready to move on to a new challenge once Tsang's replacement, Lau Kong-wah, finds his own No. 2.

A man of few words, Tsang won the respect of fellow journalists of his generation.

Comfortable communicating with western media, he may also have been one of the most frequent ministerial visitors to the Foreign Correspondents Club.

That is why I think his abrupt ouster will not mean the end of his political career.

Watch this space.

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EJ Insight writer