The government has confirmed for the first time that a close aide of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been in charge of providing recommendations concerning personnel appointments at official advisory bodies. The mechanism was revealed to be a “top-level” decision. However, it said that no records of the consultations were made.

The Central Policy Unit has been criticised by the opposition after Leung took office in 2012. They claim the aides Leung installed at the unit have more power with regards to appointments than they should, leading to a form of nepotism. The unit is currently accountable only to Leung, the chief secretary and the financial secretary.

Sophia Kao Ching-chi, the unit’s full-time adviser, was one of the officials whose overreaching power was often questioned. Kao was Leung’s election campaign aide in 2012.

Sophia Kao Ching-chi
Sophia Kao Ching-chi.

Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam had criticised the unit for being akin to a “black box,” in that she had no idea what it was working on.

At a special Finance Committee session of the Legislative Council, Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun questioned the reason behind making the unit into a “mainland-style party personnel appointment department.”

The unit’s deputy head Olivia Nip Sai-lan said the current administration “seemingly believed it should do more on personnel appointments.”

“I believe this decision was made at the top-level,” Nip said, without naming Leung.

Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan questioned Kao’s actual role at the unit.

Nip admitted that Kao’s work involved providing suggestions or putting forward several candidates for appointments at official advisory bodies.

But she insisted that relevant government departments had the final say over appointments.

Leung Chun-ying Sophia Kao
Leung Chun-ying and Sophia Kao during the 2012 election campaign. File

Asked how many of Kao’s suggestions were adopted or rejected over the years, Nip said there were no records kept by the unit as the final decisions were made by departments.

Wong was not satisfied with the response and asked for further records related to Leung’s term.

“How come the government does not have these records? Does that mean one person can decide everything?” she said.

Carrie Lam wrote in her manifesto that the unit will be completely revamped and its new role will be to coordinate inter-departmental projects, instead of giving recommendations on appointments.

Referring to Lam’s suggestion, Helena Wong requested that Kao’s HK$3 million salary should be cut.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.