The head of Hong Kong’s Science Park, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, has been forced out of the job by the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor after four years at the helm, the Post has learned.
Law, who had brought a number of reforms to the park, wrote to the board of directors informing them that she would step down next month.
A source told the Post that it was not her own decision to leave.
The Chief Executive’s Office declined to comment on why Law’s tenure was not renewed. A spokesman for the Innovation and Technology Bureau said the appointment of the park’s chairman would be announced in due course.
Law, whose actions last year sparked accusations of interference in the academic freedoms of one of the world’s top medical universities and which required Lam to intervene, was named chairwoman of the publicly owned Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) in 2014. She was appointed by Hong Kong’s previous chief executive, Leung Chun-ying.
Her predecessor, Nicholas Brooke, had been in the post for six years.
The news of her departure comes with the government pouring billions of dollars into developing the city’s innovation and technology sector and a pledge by President Xi Jinping last month to make Hong Kong a global innovation hub.
In a letter to the park’s board of directors, Law recognised the efforts of her colleagues but warned that the park still had to seize opportunities to speed up development.
“Thanks to your great effort, HKSTP can be proud of the achievements over the years. Together we have made Science Park a genuine research and development base, where we nurture technology entrepreneurs and foster cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional collaboration,” Law wrote.
She said a number of things would facilitate the park’s work. They included new Hong Kong stock exchange listing rules – which permit dual-class shares, a system favourable to technology companies and their founders – HK$50 billion (US$6.4 billion) in funding to boost IT development allocated in the government’s budget, an enhanced internship scheme, a new channel for importation of technology talent and the increasing enthusiasm among investors for technology products.
“There is still a lot to be done to capitalise on the favourable environmental factors. However, I am confident that, under the leadership of a highly professional and dedicated senior management team, HKSTP will shine and make a big difference,” she wrote.
“Like a plane that is gathering speed on the runway, Hong Kong is ready to soar as a global innovation centre! Add oil!”
Law, who is also a member of Lam’s cabinet, the Executive Council, had been keen on attracting more research-based companies and had once mentioned that the park’s occupancy rate should not be the only benchmark for performance.
Apart from the Science Park in Tai Po, the corporation also operates three industrial estates in Tai Po, Tseung Kwan O and Yuen Long as well steering the development plan of the Lok Ma Chau Loop, an area on the border with mainland China.
But Law’s leadership has not been without controversy. It is also understood that on a number of issues she holds different views from Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang.
In September last year, the vice chancellor of Sweden’s globally acclaimed medical university Karolinska Institutet, which has a research branch in the park, threatened to leave.
Ole Petter Ottersen stressed in a blog post the need for its researchers “to carry on their activities in complete academic freedom”.
Sources said the developments prompted Lam to write to the 208-year-old institute to reaffirm the city’s respect for academic autonomy.
But Law rejected accusations of meddling in academic freedom, adding she made a last-minute fact-finding visit to the Karolinska Institute’s Ming Wai Lau Centre for Reparative Medicine ahead of a trip to Stockholm to meet its dons. She had decided to do so because she did not want to visit the main outfit without knowing about its work in Hong Kong.
Information and technology sector lawmaker Charles Mok said Law had been very committed and proactive in pushing forward the park’s new developments: “It’s hard to find another chairman who is as dedicated as her.” He added that the new chairman would have to find a right balance in serving the tenants in the park as well as building new infrastructure like the Lok Ma Chau loop.
Since its founding in 2001, more than 600 firms now call the park home, of which more than two-thirds are local, plus another 62 at its InnoCentre and 165 at its industrial estate. Yet, the park is also plagued by a high turnover rate – close to 50 staff of its 220-member management team left the park in 2016. Some tenants also complained to the Post about rental increases from HK$17 per square foot in 2013 to around HK$25 in fewer than five years.