24 May 2019
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s incoming chief executive, has discovered that cabinet-formation process is anything but easy. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s incoming chief executive, has discovered that cabinet-formation process is anything but easy. Photo: HKEJ

Carrie Lam hits the home stretch on new cabinet

With just a few weeks left before she is sworn into office, Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is hitting the home stretch in putting together her new cabinet. All she needs now is Beijing’s seal of approval of her list of choices.

The approval could be just a formality, because over the past few months the Beijing bosses have been actively involved in Lam’s cabinet formation. Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, is among those reported to have had discussions with Lam.

We have enough reasons to believe that all the candidates nominated by Lam have already been vetted by Beijing.

There is talk that Beijing’s Liaison Office and even the outgoing CE, Leung Chun-ying, have weighed in on Lam’s choices for bureau chiefs. Hence, the possibility of many old faces in Lam’s incoming administration.

According to sources, Lam has been making hectic efforts to put together her governing team ever since she was elected. The process has not been easy, with Lam encountering quite a few setbacks.

It is said that at least eight of her initial favored candidates have declined her offer of government positions, mainly out of concerns that in today’s highly politicized society they and their families will come under the public and media microscope if they join the administration.

Worse still, Lam has failed to convince a number of incumbent officials into staying on her team after July 1.

It is said that one of Lam’s major concerns about recruiting talent in the private sector to join the administration is that based on past experience, the business elites often fall below expectations once they have joined the government, mainly because they are unfamiliar with how the bureaucracy works.

Such people often find themselves hamstrung by red tape and rigid decision-making process when pushing for policy initiatives, not to mention dealing with the always troublesome partisan politics in Legco.

According to reports, at least six of Lam’s cabinet members would be senior administrative officers (AOs) who know the drill of the civil service perfectly, and who can hit their stride and get down to business immediately without having to spend time to get used to the working culture of the government.

However, as old faces will dominate the cabinet, it will call into question whether Lam can truly introduce new mindset and new governing approach to the next government, a pledge she made during her election campaign.

We’ll just have to wait and watch how things will unfold, whether Lam can generate new chemistry within her cabinet and deliver the promised “new deal”.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 5

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.

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