My advice for Carrie Lam for her first 100 days in office

June 29, 2017 10:23
The controversial “co-location" issue in the cross-border rail link is likely to be Carrie Lam’s first major political test after she assumes office on July 1. Photo: Bloomberg

Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's choices for her cabinet conformed almost entirely to the list of potential candidates that had come to light prior to her official announcement. This definitely wouldn't help enhance public confidence in the incoming administration.

I am pretty sure citizens who once had high hopes for Carrie Lam's choice of her cabinet members wouldn't agree with her notion that this is the best team she could ever put together. For example, I believe there aren't too many people out there who would agree that Paul Chan Mo-po is the best candidate for financial secretary.

In fact, apart from incoming Secretary for Labor and Welfare Law Chi-kwong, almost all of Lam's “new” bureau chiefs are either incumbents, former deputies who are now promoted, and senior civil servants.

In other words, apart from Law, all members of Lam's governing team come from the establishment, which would inevitably raise doubts among the public about her true ability to recruit talent from across the political spectrum.

In the meantime, the outgoing CY Leung has vowed to continue to “serve” Hong Kong and contribute to Beijing's strategic projects such as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative in his capacity as vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) after July 1.

Given his pledges, the fact that most of Carrie Lam's bureau chiefs – her chief secretary, financial secretary and justice secretary, in particular – are all old faces either recruited or promoted by Leung during his term as CE would unavoidably raise public concern about his possible behind-the-scene influence over the incoming administration in the days ahead.

For example, how would Simon Peh Yun-lu, head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, both of whom were appointed by Leung and both of whom will remain in their current positions after July 1, handle the case of their former boss's allegedly secret business dealings with the Australian firm UGL?

Worse still, old faces dominate not only Carrie Lam's cabinet but also the incoming Executive Council (Exco) as well.

Strictly speaking, Carrie Lam has, much to my disappointment, only recruited three new Exco members, i.e., former chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, former Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah and the incumbent chairman of the Elderly Commission Dr. Lam Ching-choi.

Let's not forget that unlike chief officials of the SAR government, whose appointments have to be approved by Beijing under the Basic Law, the power to choose Exco members rests entirely with the chief executive under our mini-constitution.

But the fact that the so-called “Leung fans” are still dominating the new Exco simply begs the question: Couldn't Carrie Lam have recruited more refreshing and young talent to join the Exco?

Nevertheless, even though I am highly disappointed by Lam's choices for cabinet and Exco members, I do have high hopes for two of her new teammates, i.e., the incoming Secretary for Labor and Welfare Law Chi-kwong and the new Exco convenor Bernard Charnwut Chan.

Law is a renowned expert on social welfare issues who has strong academic background and practical experience in the field, while Chan is a highly versatile and seasoned public servant who has unrivaled connections in the business and social welfare sectors.

Besides, the two are among the handful of highly talented political figures in Hong Kong who are able to gain the trust of both the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps.

Together, I believe they would prove instrumental in Lam's successful implementation of her “new deal”: while Bernard Chan can serve as her chief advisor, Law can act as a bridge between the government and the pan-democrats.

Like I said, even though Lam's new cabinet has failed to wow the public, it doesn't necessarily mean it won't make a good and popular governing team in the future.

The key is for her and her new administration to seize the window of opportunity – during her first 100 days or first six months in office, for example – to restore public trust in the government and win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens with several popular policy initiatives.

The quickest way for Lam to regain public trust in the government is perhaps to immediately restore the long-standing tradition of respecting procedural justice and observing high personal moral standards to the entire civil service, which was seriously undermined during CY Leung's era.

In the meantime, the message brought by President Xi Jinping during his visit to Hong Kong today and media portrayal of his meeting with Carrie Lam will also, to a significant extent, shape public perception of our new CE.

As far as popular measures to win over the public are concerned, diverting an extra HK$5 billion into education annually is definitely not enough. I suggest that she propose some short-term initiatives in her first Policy Address to be delivered in October such as amending the existing Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.

Yet, I believe the controversial issue of the so-called “co-location arrangements” at the Hong Kong terminal of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is very likely to emerge as her first major political test after July 1.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 28

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government