21 October 2018
Building a competent administration and attracting more young talent into government advisory units are some of the ways CE-elect Carrie Lam can start rebuilding public trust. Photo: HKEJ
Building a competent administration and attracting more young talent into government advisory units are some of the ways CE-elect Carrie Lam can start rebuilding public trust. Photo: HKEJ

Carrie Lam’s key task: Rebuild public trust in government

Right after her election victory was sealed on Sunday, Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam said in her acceptance speech that she had felt humbled by the intense election campaign, and was ready to prove her determination to safeguard the core values of Hong Kong and to heal the wounds of our society with solid and tangible actions.

I certainly welcome her pledge to repair relations in our politically torn society and uphold our values. That said, I would like to take this opportunity to offer her some advice on how she could achieve that.

Political leaders almost without exception claim they will stay humble in the days ahead after they have been elected, but often behave otherwise after they have actually assumed office.

It remains to be seen whether Lam can truly stay humble after July 1 like she promised. However, as a devout Christian, she must be familiar with one of the famous lines in the Bible: “To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly.”

In fact, I have no problem with Lam staying humble in front of her Beijing bosses, and I would be more than happy if she could show compassion to the underprivileged in our society. My question is, can she also stay humble in front of those who have opposing views, particularly pro-democracy lawmakers who have been elected with a public mandate and who are against her?

I sincerely believe that Carrie Lam would not want to continue with the belligerent and confrontational style of governance adopted by her predecessor. However, in order to prove to the public that she is not “CY Leung 2.0”, she not only needs to stay humble, but also has to take solid actions.

Firstly, she must put together a cabinet that is both credible and convincing by recruiting the kind of upbeat and vibrant talent like former Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung and replacing unpopular or incompetent bureau chiefs in the current administration with new faces that are highly capable and credible such as professional figures without any strong pro-establishment background.

The extent to which she is able to put together such a team would determine whether she will be able to regain trust and confidence among the public.

That said, the first major political test before Lam right now is to pick the right people to fill the positions of the next chief secretary, financial secretary, secretary for justice as well as secretary for education.

Secondly, despite the fact that our new chief executive may not be able to fulfill the demand by our young people for a genuine CE election that is free from Beijing’s screening, at least she can still do one thing that outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has failed to do over the past five years, which is to aggressively appoint more young talent who are neither children of business tycoons nor the so-called “second-generation patriots” to the numerous statutory and consultation bodies under the government.

In fact, Lam herself has pledged to do so in her election platform. For example, she has proposed to establish a youth development commission with young people accounting for a significant proportion of its membership. On the other hand, she has also proposed to recruit more young people into the Central Policy Unit.

Lam should make good use of the transitional period between now and July 1 to formulate a detailed plan on how to attract and recruit young talent into the incoming administration.

Yet, any attempt to absorb pro-democracy young talent into the government will almost certainly meet strong opposition from among the pro-establishment and traditional leftist camps, because after all, many of these young people took part in the Occupy movement in 2014.

However, since even Beijing has already extended the olive branch to key members of the leading pan-democratic parties who also played a key role in the Occupy movement, I can’t see any reason why Lam should continue to regard the “yellow-ribbon” young people as enemies.

As a matter of fact, Lam was anything but friendly to radical and localist young lawmakers during her term in office as chief secretary, and hence her unpopularity among our young people. Given that, unless she is able to seize that window of opportunity after July 1 and carry out her “new deal” on young people, she would be fighting an uphill battle trying to regain their favor during her term as CE.

Casting off the shadow of CY Leung and pressing ahead with her own policy initiatives amid strong opposition from the pro-establishment camp will prove a daunting task for Lam, and I can’t tell for now whether she can pull it off or not.

However, there is one thing I can tell right now: If she can’t gain the trust of the majority of the public, she will be unable to govern effectively and maintain social stability, let alone jump-start our economy and address the various livelihood issues.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 29

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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