17 February 2019
Once elected as CE, will Carrie Lam continue to pass the buck to either Beijing or her subordinates on critical issues like she did before? Photo: HKEJ
Once elected as CE, will Carrie Lam continue to pass the buck to either Beijing or her subordinates on critical issues like she did before? Photo: HKEJ

Administrative capability not Carrie Lam’s strength

Last week, I weighed the three chief executive candidates against one another based on the first couple of criteria laid down by Beijing for judging whether a person is suitable for the job. I am discussing the remaining two criteria.

Be able to govern Hong Kong effectively

Before I go into detail, it is important for readers to note that governing the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and governing a city are two different concepts and require different personal qualities, despite the fact that some of their elements overlap.

Apart from being able to provide infrastructure, education, housing, healthcare and other public services, the leader of the SAR must also be politically sensitive enough so much so he or she can always gauge public sentiment and evaluate the political atmosphere accurately.

After all, the HKSAR is an autonomous political entity within China under “one country, two systems” while other mainland cities are not.

So let’s get back to the candidates.

As far as Carrie Lam is concerned, she has a definite advantage over John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing in terms of political steadfastness, administrative capability and eagerness to execute Beijing’s orders even at the expense of standard procedure.

In fact, the way she pressed ahead with the Forbidden City museum project in the West Kowloon Cultural District regardless of opposition in Legco is a striking example of her unwavering loyalty to Beijing.

However, when it comes to delicate issues in which so much public interest is at stake such as how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of illegal structures in village houses across the New Territories and whether to implement universal retirement protection, it appears Lam has failed to live up to her reputation as being a highly competent official.

Instead, while she came under fire for talking tough but not following through on the former, she was also heavily criticized for launching a “fake public consultation” with verdict already having been passed beforehand on the latter.

Worse still, it appears the principle of “the buck stops here” has rarely applied to Lam during her career in public service.

For example, some critics said she should be held partly, if not mainly, responsible for our current housing problem because during her term as Secretary for Development, she failed to provide enough land for the Donald Tsang administration to build public rental housing flats, thereby paving the way for our existing public housing shortage.

Likewise, after she was promoted to Chief Secretary in 2012, she immediately washed her hands of the issue of illegal structures in residential buildings across the New Territories, arguing that under our current accountability system, it was the financial secretary, rather than her, to whom the secretary for development should answer.

On the other hand, after declaring her candidacy in December last year, she disavowed any responsibility for the allegedly poor job performance of Secretary for Education Eddie Ng, despite the fact that she was his immediate superior when she was serving as chief secretary.

And that raises a fundamental question: once elected as CE, will Carrie Lam continue to pass the buck to either Beijing or her subordinates on critical issues like she did before? Can we really rely on her to uphold “one country, two systems” and preserve our core values, in particular, our respect for procedural justice?

In comparison, even though I would never rate John Tsang as an outstanding financial secretary, nor do I think he is a visionary who can guide us through hard times and make our city thrive into the future, at least he strikes me as more like the kind of leader who can restore unity and harmony to our politically torn society than Carrie Lam.

Supported by the people of Hong Kong

Even though Carrie Lam has claimed she has widespread support from among the Election Committee members, it is John Tsang who has truly won the hearts and minds of the majority of our citizens, particularly professionals and young people.

Perhaps it is interesting to note that although Tsang is far more critical of separatism than his rivals, it hasn’t undermined his popularity among our younger generation.

As such, I sincerely believe that given Tsang’s high popularity, once his is elected, parties across our political spectrum and the public will give him the space and opportunity he needs to launch his “new deal”.

Although there is no guarantee that he will be able to deliver every election promise he made, as the old saying goes, a good start is halfway to success.

Unfortunately, with only three days left before the election, I don’t think Beijing is likely to change its mind, nor do I believe it would allow pro-establishment members of the Election Committee to cast their vote of their own free will.

That said, my estimation is that Lam is likely to take more than 689 votes and become the next CE on Sunday.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Mar. 22

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe