19 November 2019
Carrie Lam and her cabinet are promising a new style of governance. But the fact is her government is dominated by sitting ministers and other top officials. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam and her cabinet are promising a new style of governance. But the fact is her government is dominated by sitting ministers and other top officials. Photo: HKEJ

What to expect from Carrie Lam’s new cabinet

On the backdrop of the press conference introducing incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her cabinet were the words “Innovative”, “Interactive”, “Collaborative” and “We Care”, “We Listen”, “We Act”.

It seems that Lam would like to create the impression that her team will focus on getting things done and interacting with the community. But is that enough to bring in a new governing style after five years under Leung Chun-ying?

Five years ago, the slogan at Leung’s press conference introducing his cabinet was “One Heart One Vision For Hong Kong”. But Hong Kong has been severely split between different factions as Leung launched various campaigns against the opposition, which also led to a much worse government performance.

Lam should understand most Hong Kong people would like to have nothing more of the governing style of her predecessor. She told the media that she will bring in a new governing style with her full cabinet that is made up mostly of sitting ministers or top civil servants.

While Lam is expected to unveil her initial policy roadmap on July 1, she stressed that her team will play a more active role to achieve a new style of governance.

“Together, my team and I will strive to rebuild social harmony, enhance public confidence in the government and ensure that the government will better align its work with public aspirations,” Lam said.

Yes, this is what Hong Kong people want Lam to do in the next five years. But does her choice of cabinet ministers ensure she achieves that goal? The answer is “no”.

For example, Lam retained Paul Chan as financial secretary. This will further strengthen the public impression that she failed to replace him with a better choice.

Chan has been a controversial figure since he joined Leung’s cabinet five years ago after he was found to have invested in subdivided flats and was charged with drunk driving. He has been one of the lowest-rated government officials in the past five years, and now he is No. 3 in the government after Lam and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung.

How can Hong Kong people believe Lam has the capability to turn things in the right direction with such appointment?

Lam had admitted that she faced difficulties in forming her cabinet. And her failure to appoint a new financial secretary showed her inability to invite outside talent to join the government. Keeping an official with such a low rating could also be a potential bombshell for Lam in the future. 

The only bright spot in yesterday’s announcement was the appointment of democrat Law Chi-kwong as labor and welfare secretary. Law could help Lam to narrow the gap between the government and the opposition camp.

But with Law’s background as a scholar of welfare policy, he is expected to come under pressure from the business sector in any proposal to to boost the tax rate to subsidise welfare expenses. Law may have very little room to move to improve the living environment of the poor, as well as boost the budget for social welfare.

Another appointment worth mentioning is Kevin Yeung as education minister.

Several media outlets reported that the government will consider the appointment of the head of the pro-Beijing teachers’ union to be the undersecretary of the education bureau, which drew fire from local teachers. Her political background hints that she would push for the deepening patriotic education in local schools.

In fact, the new cabinet, which is filled with senior government officials, could be good news for most Hong Kong people as they are mostly professional, not political. 

The public should play down the impact of the appointment of democrat Law to the cabinet given the previous track record of Cheung Bing-leung who has yet to improve the relationship between the government and the opposition.

Meanwhile, Lam said the cabinet is her ideal team. But it’s reasonable to think that Sai Wan, the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, flexed its muscles in the selection process to keep a certain number of incumbent officials at the helm.

It’s interesting to see whether Lam’s selection of her executive council and non-official members will also bear the hallmarks of the Liaison Office.

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EJ Insight writer