19 January 2019
If Carrie Lam can provide fresh vision and direction for her team, it won't matter so much whether her cabinet is made up of new or old faces. Photo: HKEJ
If Carrie Lam can provide fresh vision and direction for her team, it won't matter so much whether her cabinet is made up of new or old faces. Photo: HKEJ

Keeping old faces in the new govt not necessarily a bad thing

With just a little more than one month left before Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor takes over as Hong Kong’s new chief executive, all eyes are now on far she has come in putting together her cabinet.

Recently there has been much talk within political circles that three key officials in the outgoing administration, namely Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, and Secretary for Finance Paul Chan Mo-po, could remain in their current positions even after July 1.

Among them, it is said that Yuen, who had initially expressed his intention to quit after he serves out his current term, has now agreed to stay in Lam’s new administration in order to deal with the highly controversial issue regarding the co-location arrangements for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

However, sources also said that Yuen is not going to serve for another five years as justice secretary, and would leave office and return to private practice as a senior barrister once the above issue is resolved.

Apart from the trio who are going to stay, it is widely believed that old faces are going to dominate Lam’s new cabinet after July 1, perhaps with the exception of who has been widely tipped as the next Secretary for Labor and Welfare.

As the first ever female leader of our city, Lam, during her campaign, vowed to appoint more women to key government positions in order to promote gender equality in society. However, according to sources, so far Lam has only chosen two female candidates for cabinet positions.

One of them is Professor Sophia Chan, who is currently serving as the Undersecretary for Food and Health. It is widely believed that she will succeed Dr Ko Wing-man and become the next chief of the bureau.

Another candidate is Ingrid Yeung, the incumbent Commissioner for Transport, who might be named Secretary for Transport and Housing.

Yet her promotion is far from being sealed, as there is another major hopeful for the position, namely Frank Chan, the current director of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department.

So as we can tell, Lam’s new government is likely to see very little change in terms of key personnel appointments. So, for people who have been looking forward to seeing more new, young and refreshing faces serve in the incoming government, they are likely to be disappointed.

Lam’s new cabinet is likely to be just a “new bottle filled with old wine”.

However, I believe allowing old faces to stay in the new government might not necessarily be a bad thing for us.

It is because these incumbents have all been doing their job continuously for the past five years, and are therefore perfectly familiar with their policy areas and how the government bureaucracy works.

Given that, it is certain that they can hit their stride and get down to business immediately after July 1 without having to spend time learning everything from scratch, thereby enhancing the efficiency of the new administration.

Besides, it doesn’t necessarily take new faces to introduce new governing approach and new mindset to the next administration. All it takes to bring about positive changes is a new leader with vision and innovation who can inspire the team members.

In a recent interview, Lam implied that she might only serve a single term as CE. If she is really determined to be only a one-term CE, then keeping incumbents in her new cabinet will definitely work in her favor because it means she doesn’t have to spend time cultivating new team chemistry as her cabinet members already know each other very well.

As Paul Chan, one of the most steadfast supporters of CY Leung, is expected to remain in his position as financial secretary after July 1, some people have expressed concern that he might stick to the existing conservative approach to handling public finance, thereby posing an obstacle to Lam’s implementation of her “new deal”, under which she has vowed to increase government spending on education and other policy aspects.

We believe such worries are unfounded. It is because a financial secretary, unlike the chief secretary and the justice secretary, rarely gets involved in political controversies due to the job nature.

So as long as Paul Chan does his job well and coordinates with his boss properly, it is unlikely that he would become a liability for the Lam administration.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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