Lam should serve Hong Kong through action, not just words
Albert Cheng says despite Carrie Lam's pledge to serve the public interest she has shown that she has no wish to listen and compromise
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his team of senior officials and advisers have found themselves embroiled in a series of controversies.
Former development minister Mak Chai-kwong was charged with cheating on government housing allowances; Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim sparked widespread public discontent by insisting on pushing ahead with the unpopular moral and national education; and Paul Chan Mo-po, the current secretary for development, had to fend off accusations of owning illegally subdivided flats and possible drink driving.
Most recently, executive councillor Franklin Lam Fan-keung was suspected of profiting from inside information after he sold two flats just weeks before cooling measures for the property market were announced. He has now taken an indefinite leave of absence from the Executive Council.
Despite the government's battered credibility, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor seems to have an inflated sense of self-esteem. During a talk at the Chinese University last week, she insisted that she has been serving the public in line with her conscience. If she had to rate her own performance on a scale of one to 10, she said she deserved full marks.
So, in her eyes, have the chief executive and his senior officials who have been engulfed in scandal not acted in line with their conscience?
Lam did not comment directly on her boss and colleagues, but she admitted that the administration is in a rather sticky situation, in which it is unable to forge ahead with policies without being confronted by strong public resistance.
The reason for this is that people have lost their trust in government. Trust has to be earned; it cannot be taken for granted. Trust is lost when people feel officials have abused their power. When people feel lied to and betrayed by the government, it will take a long time for them to trust again, if ever.
Lam knows how to boost her own popularity. At the talk, she distanced herself from the government's decision last year to offer HK$6,000 handouts to permanent residents, when asked by the audience if it was a strategic move by the government to win over the Legislative Council.
Lam said giving in to populism sets a bad precedent. She said such acts were irresponsible.
Is she saying that she is the best and most admired senior official in these turbulent times? Has she really got the people's interests at heart? Is she guided by her conscience? Facts speak louder than words.
As development secretary in the last administration, she handled the illegal structure controversy shoddily, applying different rules for different people, apparently giving more leeway to the rich and powerful rural residents than ordinary citizens in urban areas. So where were her principles and conscience then?
Furthermore, when Leung's election rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, was found to have illegal building structures at his Kowloon Tong mansion, she went after him mercilessly. Then, when the boss himself was found to have illegal structures at his Peak home, she appeared to be looking the other way. If this is not double standards, what is?
How can she claim she is fair and serves the public in line with her conscience?
When Mak was first accused of cheating on housing allowance, Lam defended him, and continued to do so until he was charged. That showed a total disregard for people's core values and our well-established system. It also had a damaging effect on efforts to promote anti-corruption and a culture of clean government.
Lam acknowledges that the public does not trust the government because it often goes against the wishes of the people.
She knows it's important to consult and work with the people, but she often does the opposite. Even when she consults the public on important issues and policies, she ignores the results and their demands at the end of the day. No matter how important it is to reach a consensus in order to implement certain policies, she refuses to listen, negotiate or compromise.
Lam's combative style is not an effective way to run government, especially one that does not have the mandate of the people.
She obviously doesn't have the interests of the people at heart. Instead, it seems, what she cares about is to build a strong reputation to win support from the central government. Perhaps her ultimate goal is to take over the top job and replace her boss.
The people of Hong Kong are not blind or irrational; they know Lam and her boss are two of a kind and that both are responsible for the mess we are in at the moment. Lam isn't fooling anyone, except herself.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org