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Hong Kong's Leader Solidifies His Power

June 25, 2002|From Times Wire Services

HONG KONG — Tung Chee-hwa, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, reinforced his grip on the former British colony Monday, appointing 14 Cabinet ministers who will report to him alone.

The new officials include career bureaucrats left over from British colonial rule, pro-China businessmen and an eye doctor. No representatives of the Democratic Party were appointed, even though it has the largest single bloc of seats in the legislature.

The new team will assume key portfolios and run the 180,000-strong civil service. It will give orders to senior civil servants who have run the bureaucracy since Britain's hand-over to China in 1997 but whom Tung found resistant to changes he wished to make.

Tung said he has created an "accountability system" that will run the territory more smoothly, but critics believe that the new system will only increase his power and boost Beijing's control over Hong Kong, which was promised a high level of autonomy under Chinese rule.

"No accountability system in the world is like this," said lawmaker Martin Lee, head of the Democratic Party. "It's got nothing to do with accountability to the people. I call it a sham."

Critics have questioned whether there can be any accountability in the new system when neither Tung nor the 14 new ministers were popularly elected.

Since Hong Kong was returned to China, its apolitical civil service, with a reputation for fair and honest dealings, has been viewed as a cornerstone of its continued success as a vibrant and free financial center.

The new ministers can be fired at will by Tung.

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