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Who's who in HK's elite
12th April 2010

In the latest addition to the Webb-site Database, we are now launching a who's who of Hong Kong Government statutory and advisory bodies (SABs). For more than a decade, we have been privately tracking them through the Government Gazette (online since 19-May-2000) and by monitoring Government Press Releases (online since 1-Jul-1997). This is in addition to our database of HK-listed company directors.

There are several hundred such bodies. Statutory bodies are created by law, such as the Housing Authority or the Hospital Authority, while advisory bodies and others have just been informally created by past and present governments, sometimes on a permanent basis and sometimes as a short-term reaction to an event, such as the Panel of Inquiry on the Penny Stocks Incident. The Webb-site Database also includes all District Council members since 1999, Legislative Council members, as well as all the members of the Election Committee which elects Hong Kong's Chief Executive, since formation in 1996. These can all be found in the governmental bodies category. We also include all the Bauhinia Awards since they were introduced.

All 4 new categories can be found in our main Database page. When looking at any organisation, you can click on the "hide history" button to look at current members, and click on the "overlaps" button to see how the organisation overlaps with others in its membership.

The Government has a practice, often honoured in the breach, of limiting people to 6 concurrent appointments and for not more than 6 years in each seat. In practice it gets around this by re-setting the clock, promoting someone from "Member" to "Deputy Chairman" or "Chairman" of a committee. It regards this as a fresh appointment. Presumably the purpose of the 6-year rule is to bring fresh minds and ideas into SABs and also, for those which have economic power, such as the Town Planning Board, to guard against the risk of corruption. It's the same reason why banks move their officers around from branch to branch every few years. It seems inconsistent with both the freshness and anti-corruption objectives to allow someone to progress to the highest position in a committee after 6 years, where they are even more influential than they were as a member and could preside for another 6 years.

We've also noticed that people the Government can trust are in such short supply that as soon as they lose one of their 6 positions by term-expiry, they get appointed to another body instead. Some of these are paid positions, and some are held by barristers who also get paid to represent the Government in court cases, while some are held by people whose accounting firm, law firm or consulting firm earns fees from the Government.

Occasionally we have noted that the Government has replaced an expiring member, who has served a full term, with a close relative, without acknowledging that fact. For example, in the Women's Commission, when Ophelia Cheung Look-ping's term expired on 15-Jan-2007, her daughter Ayesha Macpherson was appointed on the same day. She's also a member of the ICAC Advisory Committee on Corruption, which perhaps should give some advice against creating the appearance of family succession in government appointments.

Similarly, when Legislator for Textiles Sophie Leung Lau Yau-fun's term on the Textiles Advisory Board expired on 1-Apr-2007, her husband Brian Leung Hung Tak was appointed on the same day. Both are directors of Bay Apparel Ltd. On the same body, Willy Lin Sun-mo left on 1-Apr-08 after 7 years, and on the same day, Helen Lin Sun was appointed. Both are directors of family-owned Milo's Knitwear (International) Ltd.

This morning, by coincidence, the South China Morning Post ran a story about the number of directors of property developers who sit on SABs, suggesting that they account for 1% of all seats on SABs, and that these tend to be the more economically important seats. That story is true as far as it goes - you won't find a tycoon sitting on the Dogs and Cats Classification Board, for example. But the SCMP is not even close to the scale of the overlap between big business and SABs, because it didn't cover unlisted companies, and it didn't cover management-level staff who are not on the main board. Most of all, it didn't cover the overlap between big business and the Election Committee who elect our Dear Leader in the first place.

In our database, we try to connect the members of SABs and Governmental bodies to their employers, whether as directors or not, and whether listed on the stock exchange or not. Hopefully, journalists, lobbyists and academic researchers will find our database helpful in connecting the dots that make up Hong Kong's small circles and seeing the overlaps between those circles.

If your organisation is important, put it in the database

Finally, a request for help - if your organisation is not a listed company or SAB, (for example, a charity, NGO or private company) then please help us keep our database up to date by sending us a list of members of your governing body (Board of Directors, Councillors, Governors or other). We need full names, preferably a date of birth or year of birth, to avoid mistaken identities, and verifiable material, such as a link to data on your own web site. If you consider your organisation to be an important part of Hong Kong's community, then it should be in the database. You can search for it in the "organisation" box at the top of any page on Webb-site.com. We include a free link to your web site, so that interested parties can find out more. Contact us here.

Webb-site.com, 2010

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