19 October 2018
CE candidate John Tsang is more receptive to different views and can bring everyone to the negotiation table. Photo: HKEJ
CE candidate John Tsang is more receptive to different views and can bring everyone to the negotiation table. Photo: HKEJ

What it takes to be a true Hong Kong leader

According to Article 43 of the Basic Law, the chief executive of Hong Kong is the head of our city, while Article 60 says the chief executive is also the head of the executive branch.

In other words, constitutionally speaking, our chief executive has dual roles to play: as the head of our city and the chief of our government.

While the two roles aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, they do have different priorities: if society sees our chief executive more as the head of government than the head of the city, then perhaps people would expect someone with more experience in public administration to take the job.

However, given our well-established administrative system and our highly efficient civil service, I believe the CE should give our chief officials a free hand to perform their duties, rather than personally intervening too much in the day-to-day running of the government and constantly looking over the shoulders of cabinet members.

As such, I believe it would be more sensible and in the public interest for the chief executive to consider himself/herself more as the head of our city than the administrative head.

As the head of our city, our next CE must have visions for Hong Kong, be able to point our society in the right direction and guide us through hard times.

Above all, he or she must possess the kind of easy charm that can help different sectors and interests in society to settle their differences and find common ground on important issues.

To put it more vividly, being Hong Kong’s chief executive is like being the captain of a big yacht.

A good captain doesn’t need to take the ship’s wheel, but must be able to look far beyond the horizons and always be sure the boat is sailing for the right destination.

Now that we are clear our city actually needs a true leader rather than just a head of government, then perhaps this can serve as a fundamental criterion for judging which of the three candidates is most suitable for the top job.

As far as Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is concerned, her proven track record in serving as the chief secretary would definitely give her an advantage over John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing in terms of administrative experience.

Therefore, if what we are looking for is nothing more than a government head, then she is certainly our best bet.

Unfortunately, one serious problem with Carrie Lam is that she appears not to be politically sensitive enough, which casts considerable doubts on whether she has what it takes to be a true leader.

One striking example of her lack of political sensitivity is that when asked how she intends to mend fences in our deeply divided society, Lam said it doesn’t necessarily take political means to repair relations in our city.

Rather, she said, she would prefer to restore unity in our society by addressing livelihood issues first.

At first glance her approach might sound fair enough. However, there is a fatal flaw in her approach, as she has failed to identify and grasp a very basic but fundamental idea, which is, all livelihood issues, be they universal retirement protection, health care, jobs or housing, are at the end of the day a matter of distribution of economic resources, which is in itself largely dictated by the power structure of society.

In other words, politics lies at the root of basically all social issues, and therefore it would be completely naive and ignorant to believe that one can truly improve people’s livelihoods without having to touch on political issues.

In comparison, John Tsang might be at a slight disadvantage in terms of administrative experience, but I am pretty sure he would make a better political leader than Lam because he is at least more receptive to opposing views and even criticism, and he strikes me as the kind of political figure that can get everyone to come to the negotiation table in order to agree on things.

Last but not least, even though Woo Kwok-hing lacks both administrative and political experience compared to the other two, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is not capable of leading our city.

In fact, his background as an impartial and incorruptible judge might work in his favor when it comes to uniting our highly polarized society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 20

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe