23 January 2019
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam plans to buy a flat in Hong Kong after her retirement, but the surging property prices bother her. Photo: HKEJ
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam plans to buy a flat in Hong Kong after her retirement, but the surging property prices bother her. Photo: HKEJ

Carrie Lam: A house is not a home when it’s not in Hong Kong

Attention, all property agents: There’s a big client just waiting for your sales pitches.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a local paper that she plans to buy a flat in Hong Kong after her retirement in 2017.

But owing to the stratospheric property prices, she will choose not to live in the urban districts but rather find a place in the New Territories.

Her remarks may have raised a few eyebrows; we don’t normally regard the No. 2 in the SAR government as being in the same income level as the hoi polloi.

Last year alone, she made HK$4.68 million.

For her, it’s certainly not about affordability. She just probably thinks it’s not worth it to chase surging property prices.

Her husband stays in Britain for a teaching job with two sons. One of them, Jeremy, returned to Hong Kong after finishing his studies.

Interestingly, the lady who has been a civil servant for 35 years has never bought a home in Hong Kong.

Lam moved to Hong Kong Parkview in 2007 when she was named secretary for development, and since becoming the chief secretary, she has been living in her Barker Road home at The Peak.

She obviously made some assets shift, selling off her real estate investment in Britain and a home in Suzhou while her husband bought a new home in Zhongshan.

Many Hong Kong people have bought retirement homes in Zhongshan because of its proximity and, more importantly, its affordability; real estate prices there remained almost unchanged in the last decade.

Apart from her non-resident family, one reason we can think of as to why she hasn’t bought a home in Hong Kong is that she always gets free quarters for most of her entire working life  thanks to the well-established British civil service system.

Another reason is that she spent many years as housing and development secretary. She was smart enough not to raise questions of conflict of interest by investing in a flat during her tenure — much less in subdivided flats, which created quite a mess for one incumbent official.

Lam said her decision to buy a home came after a widely circulated online “Letter to Hong Kong” spoke of a “Carrie Lam” who plans to leave Hong Kong for Britain after stepping down as chief secretary.

Also, as opposed to what the imaginative “Letter to Hong Kong” said, Lam made it clear that she will opt for “naked retirement”, meaning she will not take up any job offers after her term ends in 2017.

Retired government officials often need to find a retirement home. Lam’s predecessor Rafael Hui Si-yan didn’t buy a home, and look what happened to him: he doesn’t need to worry about where to live for the next seven years.

Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was reportedly paying a monthly rental of HK$85,000 for his Yuen Long home.

Lam met a group of reporters on Thursday while on a final push for the government’s political reform package.

She admitted that she couldn’t convince even a single democrat to shift stance, which makes her believe that the bill will be vetoed at Legco.

Asked if she would tender her resignation for not getting the job done, Lam replied: “Do you really want me to resign?”

No matter what the decision is on the political reform bill, a future property purchase indicates that her heart is still in Hong Kong. Sorry, I mean New Territories.

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EJ Insight writer

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