SME-ckDown at HKGCC!

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The SME seats at Hong Kong’s most powerful business grouping are being hotly contested in a WWE-reminiscent SMEckDown to happen at the HKGCC’s AGM on May 18th.

Photo: HKGCC General Committee of 2012 (Credit: HKGCC)

Two contested positions in The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) General Committee will go to an election in the Chamber’s next Annual General Meeting (AGM) on May 18th. The competition reflects a departure from expected practice and may yet mean a change in the status quo.

Sources claim that,  Mr Andrew Yuen (袁耀全) and Mr KK Yeung (楊國琦) were supposed to resign after 16 years on the General Committee, as part of a long running genteel consensus that normally sees positions go uncontested. Not ready to play ball, they are running again in the coming AGM. In the opposite corner, stand Mr Leland Sun (孫立勳) and Mr Edmond Yue (餘國賢). According to sources, both men were hand-picked to take over Mr Yuen and Mr Yeung’s seats on the committee, although it is unclear by whom.

Sources close to the matter explain that, competition for member seats in the GCC General Committee, while not unheard of, have been a rarity in the past. Although not stipulated in the by-laws of the Chamber, the usual practice is for members to resign and be replaced on  the General Committee by uncontested election. The replacements will then stand as an incumbent when the original term is up. For example, Ms Agnes Chan, managing partner at Ernst & Young, recently replaced retiring Bank of China Hong Kong chief, Mr Gary He Guang-bei.

A gentlemen’s agreement also exists where members are expected to resign after 16 years on the committee – a lengthy term, by any organisation’s standards. It is hard to imagine what unfinished a member might have after 16 years.

House of Cards

Even with these conventions, past AGMs have been no strangers to political drama.

In 2009, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported that, while members such as Joseph Yam Chi-kong, Chan Wing-kee, and billionaire Tony Fung chose to retire from the committee after having sat for 16 years, former GCC chairman and Commercial (First) representative James Tien insisted on running again, despite also meeting the 16 year mark.

Mr Tien, a prominent member of the Liberal Party, was still voted in albeit with the lowest count. Two other contenders, supposedly backed by Mr Tien, lost in their bid to join the General Committee. CPPCC member Chan Wing-kee reportedly implied the results were due to the Liberal Party pushing too hard to steer the GCC, instead of the other way around, saying “it is the dog who wags the tail, not the tail who wags the dog.”

That year, current contender KK Yeung, who was and remains affiliated with the Liberal Party, failed to get re-elected as vice-chairman of the HKGCC’s General Committee.

What is to come

While it is expected that newcomers Leland Sun and Edmund Yue will replace Andrew Yuen and KK Yeung, the departure from tradition signifies a struggle for power from some corners of the business community.

At least one member informed HT that they had only heard from Andrew Yuen directly regarding the matter of voting – that is, an actual get-the-vote-out campaign. Mr. Yuen’s concern was that the voices of SMEs would be ill represented in his absence and that big business was becoming too dominant in the HKGCC.

The GCC, all four candidates, and legislators James Tien and Jeffrey Lam were approached for comment. While the GCC refused to disclose information before the AGM, the rest did not offer any replies before the deadline, although Mr Leland Sun did make efforts to return calls to HT before deadline while he was traveling, in a vigorous game of telephone tag.

HT will be updating the situation on our website and report on the results.

Sphere of influence
Founded in 1861, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce is the oldest business organisation in Hong Kong. With 4,000 members belonging to some of the largest multinational corporations, local companies, and Mainland businesses, the GCC is considered the most influential chamber of commerce in Hong Kong. The organisation boasts representatives on over 40 government and non-government advisory boards, two ExCo members, two LegCo members, and two members serving on the CPPCC standing committee. It also decides who represents the commercial community in the Legislative Council through the Commercial (First) Functional Constituency seat, which is currently occupied by BPA (Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong)’s Jeffrey Lam Kin Fung. Notable members on the General Committee include, Aron Harilela, Chairman and CEO of Hari Hariela Ltd., Victor Tzar-kuoi Li, Managing Director of Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd., Raymond Kwok Ping Lune, Chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., and a wide range of the brightest lights of the Hong Kong business community establishment.