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Selecting the Chief Executive

 I met with Mr Tung Chee-hwa, the prospective candidate running for a second term for the position of Chief Executive of the HKSAR, on the 11th, 22nd and 30th of January as a member of the Election Committee. By virtue of my position as a LegCo representative, I am a de facto member of the Election Committee together with the other twenty members that you separately elected as part of the Accountancy Functional Constituency some time ago.

I had helped arrange the first meeting with Mr Tung on January11th for the exclusive benefit of the sixteen members of the Election Committee from the Accountancy sector as well as for our special guests, HKSA President Mr Alvin Wong, and Vice-President, Mr David Sun. A wide range of topics were discussed and views exchanged during what turned out to be a very cordial and productive one and a half-hour meeting. We also had the opportunity to impress upon Mr Tung the fact that accountants are deeply concerned with public affairs and in this regard possess substantial professional skills and expertise that can be utilised. HKSA members' are, for example, in a strong position to be able to offer advice on such matters as how to handle public finances; how to alleviate the pressures created by structural deficits; and opportunities which might exist for businesses and financial services providers looking to enter the Mainland market. We are also aware of the importance of training expert financial professionals locally who, together with overseas experts, enhance the attractiveness of Hong Kong as a spring-board for China enterprises to expand their operations worldwide.

On wider issues, we stressed to Mr Tung that Hong Kong still has many advantages over other Mainland cities and we must maintain confidence and belief in ourselves in this highly competitive environment. We also discussed the political responsibilities of government officials and the possibility of enhancing the role of the Director of Audit. Finally, I suggested to Mr Tung that he might try to find time to meet with more accountants and members of the public in open meetings later on in his campaign.

The second meeting, on January 22, included the thirty LegCo members who were elected from functional constituencies. In this meeting I urged Mr Tung to complete, as soon as possible, his blueprint for future political reform and to treat LegCo as a partner in this change. Indeed, to successfully implement reform Mr Tung realises that, if re-elected, he must hold public consultations and work on building a consensus within the Hong Kong community.

January 30th marked the third occasion on which Mr Tung and I met. In this open meeting, which was comprised of Election Committee members, I asked Mr Tung how he would help engender in the people of Hong Kong a more ¡§can-do spirit¡¨ and how he would help them regain their confidence following the recent economic difficulties.

Most of us are well aware of Mr Tung's confidence in the civil service, and in the Territory's future generally, witnessed by the investments the government has made and continues to make in infrastructure, education and job creation measures. However, Hong Kong people still lack the willingness to invest, consume and buy new homes, even with interest rates at an historic low. A scenario in which government spending outpaces that of the private sector will ultimately lead to an imbalance in the budget. As the public sector grows larger and larger, it will consume a greater than necessary share of the community's resources. I suggested to Mr Tung that Hong Kong's problems could only be solved with a strong and confident private sector rather than relying solely on the government's efforts trickling from the top-down. I consider that the Chief Executive's campaign is the perfect opportunity for him to encourage the public to become more confident in facing the changes the future will bring. I also asked him to keep a close watch on the growth of the civil service, ensuring that it is kept at its current size or even slimmed down a bit.

 It would probably be unfair and even risky for me to try to paraphrase Mr Tung's response especially as the media has already reported on virtually his every word. The process, however, of questioning and then listening to Mr Tung's direct response has no doubt given us a fairly good idea of the kind of leader he is and will be if re-elected. In any event I shall consider Mr Tung's candidacy based on the strengths and weaknesses of his record over the last four and a half-years which I believe says far more than the elegantly presented and craftily drafted words in his election document.

 At the invitation of Mr Tung's campaign team I did consent to act as Mr Tung's nominator. As the incumbent Chief Executive I know him rather well personally and admire his unwavering commitment to Hong Kong at this difficult time. I also believe that his personal integrity, honesty and motives are beyond question. Nothing can be worse than a clever leader who has only his own personal agenda and little regard for the people of Hong Kong. The confidence that he engenders among our national leaders and the majority of political factions in Hong Kong will be vital to continued stability in the short-term. Of equally importance is the fact that these credentials will prove critical to the success of Hong Kong as it competes for a share of the Mainland market in the next four to five years. Mr Tung is undoubtedly the strongest candidate to take us forward over the next five years.

 I also take Mr Tung at his word when he says he will improve on his past performance in a number of areas. For example, Mr Tung could certainly benefit from a stronger political team that he is able to trust unreservedly. The ambitious plans and visions of his government need to be better outlined, with its priorities well established and the details worked out. He should consult more widely with interested parties and the public at large rather than relying too heavily on the words of selected experts. It is also evident that he has learnt from the experience of the last campaign in 1997 and has successfully avoided the use of inflexible social targets in his election platform which give the impression of unnecessary ¡§state planning¡¨. Mr Tung appears to be determined to work on his relationship with the public in order to gain their acceptance. He has also promised to foster closer ties with LegCo.

 The job of running Hong Kong is an extraordinarily difficult one at this point in our short history. Experience, integrity and trust should be the deciding factors rather than simply popularity based on lofty promises. I shall use these criteria to judge and exercise my vote as a member of the Election Committee on 24th March 2002. I encourage you to share your views with me on this important decision for Hong Kong.

Credit: Eric Li is the LegCo Accountancy Functional Constituency Representative. For more information, refer to his website at http://www.ericli.org.

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