Hong Kong’s leader is set to announce a major cabinet reshuffle that will see four ministers leave her team while the top official in charge of constitutional and mainland China affairs will be transferred to head the civil service, sources have revealed.
Beijing is expected to make the announcement as early as Wednesday, giving the green light to a move to inject much-needed new blood into the local administration, in tandem with similar reshuffling recently at its two offices overseeing Hong Kong affairs.
Multiple sources told the Post on Tuesday that Director of Immigration Erick Tsang Kwok-wai would replace Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen.
While the reshuffle was planned earlier, the news has been leaked amid a raging controversy over limits to the powers of the Beijing-based, cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the central government’s liaison office in the city.
Nip made a public apology on Monday night for confusion and misunderstanding caused by the government’s conflicting statements over the weekend on the roles of the two offices.
That followed an outcry among opposition politicians that the offices had interfered in Hong Kong’s internal affairs by criticising them for holding up the work of the Legislative Council with filibustering.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the semi-official think tank Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said an injection of fresh blood could answer Beijing’s demands for changes in the administration.
He interpreted the reshuffle as a move to deal with political turmoil ahead, including the Legco election scheduled for September, which the opposition is gearing up to sweep, and the expected resumption of anti-government protests.
“It is still unclear if these new faces can bring changes, but it can prove to the public that the government will not back down,” he said. “There will be lots of challenges in the coming year, and the government badly needs new blood.”
Nip, who is seen as one of Lam’s trusted ministers, will remain in her team by taking over as secretary for the civil service from Joshua Law Chi-kong.
“It is not surprising that Tsang takes over Nip’s bureau, as Tsang has a good relationship with Beijing authorities. Among all principal officials, Beijing trusts him most,” a senior government source said.
“Given the work in immigration, Tsang has close ties with the mainland authorities, and has good knowledge of Chinese policies as well.”
Tsang, who has worked at the Immigration Department for 33 years, partnered with Nip last month to evacuate hundreds of Hong Kong residents from coronavirus-hit Hubei province.
The reshuffle had been expected at some stage as a result of last year’s chaotic social unrest which continues to simmer amid the public health crisis that has shut down parts of the city.
Ray Yep Kin-man, a political scientist at City University, suggested Law was removed for not being tough enough with civil servants taking part in anti-government protests and those who set up unions to oppose the administration.
He said Beijing favoured a disciplined forces chief as constitutional and mainland affairs minister because it attached greater importance to security matters between the central government and Hong Kong.
A government source confirmed that Undersecretary for Labour and Welfare Caspar Tsui Ying-wai would be promoted to minister for home affairs, replacing 63-year-old Lau Kong-wah.
Tsui, 43, is a party colleague of Lau in the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and was in the first batch of political assistants recruited by the government in 2008. He served as political assistant to the secretary for home affairs for almost a decade before being promoted to undersecretary for labour and welfare in 2017.
Alfred Sit Wing-hang, who is now leading the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department and almost retired, will replace Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, 64, according to another government source.
Sit joined the government as assistant electrical and mechanical engineer in 1984, going on to become deputy director of the department in 2011 and director in 2017. His predecessor, Frank Chan Fan, is currently secretary for transport and housing.
A source close to Beijing said that Christopher Hui Ching-yu, executive director of the Financial Services Development Council, would succeed James Lau as secretary for financial services and the treasury. Lau turns 70 this week.
Hui, younger brother of the former undersecretary for home affairs Florence Hui Hiu-fai, who died in 2018, was a managing director at Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing before his appointment to the Financial Services Department Council in June last year.
Hui, 43, is a member of the DAB’s standing committee. There will be two ministers who are DAB members after the reshuffle.
All new appointments are pending Beijing’s final approval. The reshuffle was justified because the four outgoing ministers were either not performing well or too passive in their work, according to a source close to the government.
“It’s reasonable for the chief executive to make the mid-term reshuffle. A new team signals a new beginning which brings hope to the people of Hong Kong,” the source said.
Cheung Chor-yung, who teaches public policy at City University, said that Lam stood a high chance of serving out her remaining tenure, given Beijing’s blessing for the latest reshuffle.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan of the opposition Civic Party said the reshuffle would do little to boost the government’s popularity, as the public did not have a say on the matter.
“The first to be kicked out should have been Carrie Lam, with her constant low rating,” Chan said.
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