27 October 2016
Carrie Lam (inset) has accused the pan-democrats of politicizing the water contamination issue and making exaggerated claims. Photos: HKEJ,
Carrie Lam (inset) has accused the pan-democrats of politicizing the water contamination issue and making exaggerated claims. Photos: HKEJ,

Why Carrie Lam is wrong in blaming pan-democrats for water scare

Is Carrie Lam being needlessly prickly and touchy on the issue of the administration’s response to the lead-in-water crisis?

The chief secretary may, of course, have good reasons to insist that government officials are doing all they can to fix the problem of contaminated water at some public housing estates in the city.

Still, is she justified in accusing the Democratic Party of politicizing the issue and highlighting it constantly for ulterior ends? 

These are the questions that come to mind following Lam’s strong words late last week.

Speaking at the Legislative Council on Friday, Lam took aim against the Democratic Party, which had been persistently raising the water contamination issue and demanding the creation of a special LegCo panel to investigate the matter.

Some groups are using unfortunate incidents to achieve political purposes, rather than really trying to help the public, said Lam, who is the topmost official in the Leung Chun-ying administration.

“I have the guts to point out that this issue has been politicized,” the chief secretary said, adding that no one has the right to discredit civil servants who are working hard to rectify the problem. 

The remarks came during a debate after pan-democrats again put forward two motions for setting up a select house committee to look into the lead-in-water scandal.

The motions were eventually shot down as many functional constituency lawmakers cast a ‘no’ vote, arguing that other inquiries were already underway and that a fresh LegCo probe won’t do much good.

Lam, meanwhile, used her closing speech during the debate to accuse the pan-democratic camp of exaggerating the tainted-water problem.

Comments that people have been drinking toxic water are unwarranted, she said, also slamming the pan-democrats for making “unreasonable” demands for tests at all units in public housing estates.  

Meanwhile, she also stressed that she won’t allow civil servants to be humiliated by being made to drink possible lead-contaminated water.

Citing reports that at least two officials had been pressured by district councilors into drinking water from estates where excessive levels of lead had been found, Lam said she has ordered civil servants not to be pressured into any personal drinking tests.

The officials “have to safeguard not only their personal dignity, but also the Hong Kong government’s dignity,” she said.

From the civil servant and the government perspective, Lam is perfectly justified in upholding the dignity and morale of officials.

However, where she has gone wrong is not own up the government’s responsibility over the water contamination issue.

By blaming loopholes in the system and pointing fingers at third-party contractors, can Lam really claim to be safeguarding the government’s dignity?

Hong Kong people deserve a government that is more responsive to the common man’s problems.

The least that top officials can do is show sympathy and understanding of the public’s concerns, even though the concerns may be a bit overblown at times.

Quite a few people now fear that they may have been drinking lead-tainted water for years, and that their health could suffer some damage over the long run.

Thanks to Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong’s initiative to bring the lead-in-water issue to light, the government has been forced to map out some plans, including replacement of water pipes to reduce the risk of drinking lead water and installing new water filters to eliminate pollutants.

Earlier this month, Lam admitted there had been inadequacies which resulted in tap water at some housing estates, schools and kindergartens becoming tainted with lead.

But now she seems to getting rather defensive about her colleagues and trying to deflect criticism. 

Lam appears to be forgetting that her role is to serve as a bridge between the people and the government and to improve the overall living standards in the city.

As the highest-ranking official, Lam should have been the first to stand in front of the public and own up the government’s responsibility on the water contamination and promise quick remedial measures.

A government that holds itself accountable will set its own house in order, rather than point fingers at others for “exaggerating” the issue.

The sad truth is that under Leung’s leadership, civil servants have been forgetting that they are expected to remain neutral and not take sides in political battles.

As Hong Kong faces various challenges, government officials must remember that their only duty is to serve the people and act in their interests, rather than those of the political masters.

Talking of Lam specifically, it will be better if she avoids partisan comments and focus solely on resolving the water safety problem as quickly as possible.

Forgetting her priorities and showing blind loyalty to her boss will only hurt her standing in the eyes of the public.

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EJ Insight writer

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