27 January 2020
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has pledged to reach out to the people to understand their views and sentiments. Photo: Bloomberg
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has pledged to reach out to the people to understand their views and sentiments. Photo: Bloomberg

It’s the mindset that determines the quality of governance

Waves of denunciations from members of the pro-establishment camp followed the storming of the Legislative Council building on July 1. But as it turned out, the mainstream public opinion has not turned against the anti-extradition bill protesters as the government would have wanted.

It was the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor that ignored the massive public outcry against her now-suspended legislative initiative in the first place.

The young protesters, angry and frustrated, then went to extreme lengths to make their voices heard.

And although many moderate pan-dem supporters didn’t agree with such radical means, they couldn’t dissociate themselves from the young protesters because they share that deep sense of frustration and indignation.

Members of the community urged senior government officials to take the initiative in establishing communication lines with the youth. And while the chief executive pledged to reach out to the people during her speech at the reception celebrating the 22nd anniversary of the handover, the call for dialogue has not panned out.

The Chief Executive’s Office has tried to arrange for Lam to meet with members of the student unions of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) through the university management, only to be given the cold shoulder by the students.

In an open letter issued to Lam last Saturday, student unions from nine tertiary institutions – the University of Hong Kong, CUHK, HKUST, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Education University of Hong Kong and Hang Seng University of Hong Kong – as well as the Hong Kong Federation of Students said two conditions must be satisfied before any meeting could take place: 1) a permanent halt to the investigation of those who joined protest actions from 9 June to 1 July; and 2) the meeting must be conducted in a transparent and public manner, and representatives from various sectors must be present, including members of the press and the general public.

“No consideration or reconsideration in regard to a meeting should be expected from us unless the above are satisfied,” the letter said. “These two are prerequisites for a meeting, there will be no compromising when it comes to the 5 demands from the public for the extradition bill.”

Apart from the chief executive, the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office, which was formerly known as the Central Policy Unit, is also exchanging views with members of different social classes and sectors in an effort to understand the public pulse.

Now will these efforts to “reconnect” with society bring about a new style of governance for the Lam administration?

It is hard to tell. At the end of the day, it is the mindset of our government officials, not how well-informed they are, that determines whether they can deliver good governance.

Shortly before the million-strong protest march on June 9, quite a number of government officials had already seen a political crisis of immense proportions looming on the horizon.

Unfortunately, the government leadership had apparently underestimated the magnitude of the crisis and had not handled the situation with urgency. It insisted on getting the extradition bill through Legco according to schedule, thereby sparking the June 12 clashes.

And by the time the government eventually backed down and announced the suspension of the legislative push, it was too little, too late. On June 16, 2 million people took to the streets.

As we can see, what the government is lacking here isn’t information, but rather, the eagerness to discuss social issues with the public humbly.

After what happened in June, the government has basically put everything on hold policy-wise in order to allow the public to cool off.

But here’s the thing: Lam’s next policy address is only three months away. If members of the public remain fired up by October, or if something big happens in the interim, it’s difficult to predict how convincing Lam would be in her speech.

This is an updated version of an article that appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 6

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.