Four days into the job as Hong Kong chief executive, Carrie Lam is trying to differentiate herself from her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, by taking a completely different stance on issues ranging from the scrapping of the Mandatory Provident Fund offsetting mechanism to the reopening of Civic Square, giving Hong Kong people hope for a better government in the next five years.
On Wednesday, Lam was to attend a Legislative Council weekly meeting to unveil her agenda, including seeking Legco’s approval for a HK$5 billion funding for education.
Her speedy decision-making process is completely different from that of Leung, and her efforts to reach out to different stakeholders regardless of their political stance should also be recognized. This is the first step in bringing government operations to normal after five years of political struggle.
In fact, while several opposition politicians treat Lam as a CY 2.0, describing her as a disciple of Leung’s style and policies, Lam has been intending to be a new leader. The reopening of Civic Square is an example. Civic Square, located at the entrance of the Central Government Offices east wing, had been a place for the public to have their voices heard, such as the opposition to national education in 2012, the protests against the government’s refusal to issue a licence to Ricky Wong’s Hong Kong Television Network in 2014 as well as a series of campaigns related to the fight for genuine democracy.
Leung decided to close Civic Square to stop public gatherings outside government headquarters. Its reopening is a symbolic move for Lam to establish her credibility among Hong Kong people by showing her willingness to listen to the public.
One of the key obstacles for Leung’s administration is that he failed to work with the civil service due to his lack of government experience.
Lam should be in a better position to implement policies with the civil service. She has signalled a change in the policy-making process by enabling her executive councilors to get involves more deeply.
Previously, executive councilors were advisers to the chief executive; they advised the chief executive on the government’s proposed policies. But according to Lam, Exco could be up for big changes for the first time since the 1997 handover.
Lam said Exco members will play a bigger role in policy-making. This will be discussed with the concerned bureaus.
Exco’s function as adviser to the chief executive will be changed to being the latter’s representative in government operations.
Exco members, especially the 16 non-official members, could become part of the policy-making team, rather than just a rubber stamp.
Lam also said that all proposed government policies will go through the Executive Council. If a policy proposal fails to secure the approval of more than half of the council members, the policy will need to be worked out.
Lam has taken an aggressive step to overhaul the decision-making structure by including all non-official Executive Council members, rather than just let principal officials take the lead.
Such change, if it works smoothly, could indicate the administration will turn into a cabinet system. All bureau chiefs could be the execution arm of the cabinet.
In fact, Lam has shown her ambition to take the lead in financial policies with the appointment of four key Executive Councilors to her cabinet. They are Laura Cha, Joseph Yam, Bernard Chan and Chow Chung-kong.
Lam introduced them as her “four pillars” to strengthen Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center. It is quite clear that Lam would like to have her own say in this field, rather than rely on Financial Secretary Paul Chan, one of the most unpopular government officials in the past five years.
Lam has done a good job in her first few days in office, but being a leader of Hong Kong is not just a public relations job; it’s also a political job serving both Beijing authorities and Hong Kong people. She must strike a balance between the two roles for the good of Hong Kong.
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