- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

HONG KONG In the territory's biggest shake-up since its handover from Britain to China five years ago, the leader of Hong Kong named a new Cabinet of political appointees yesterday, replacing civil servants at the top levels of government.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said he has created an "accountability system" that will run the territory more smoothly, but the overhaul was quickly denounced by opposition leaders.

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

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.

Mr. Tung made his announcement after Beijing approved his picks over the weekend. He heralded the changes as "the dawning of a new era for the governance of Hong Kong."

The new arrangement creates a layer of 14 political appointees who will head government bureaus and answer to Mr. Tung, replacing an old system in which top bureaucrats were responsible for implementing policy.

Mr. Tung rejected charges he was chipping away at the old system.

"In pursuing any reform, I will not allow the integrity and stability of the civil service to be compromised," he said at a news conference.

The former shipping magnate is unpopular among Hong Kong citizens, many of whom view him as beholden to Beijing and big business. The economic troubles faced by the territory since it reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 haven't helped.

The new Cabinet will be in place for the start of Mr. Tung's second five-year term on July 1. The chief executive was re-elected without opposition in a restricted electoral process that gave votes to just 800 members of a committee full of pro-Beijing figures and special-interest representatives.

The Cabinet contains many officials who worked their way up through the ranks of the old system. Mr. Tung's top three deputies Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang, Financial Secretary Antony Leung and Justice Secretary Elsie Leung will keep their jobs.

But as political appointees, they would be easier for Mr. Tung to fire.

Among Mr. Tung's 11 other political appointees, six come from within government and five are outsiders.

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