Seriously, have we run out of guts and talent to lead Hong Kong out of its rut?

Yonden Lhatoo is far from impressed by Carrie Lam’s cabinet picks – a pale, male and stale line-up of career bureaucrats rather than fresh blood and new thinkers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 6:27pm

So, what is it, “We Connect” or “We Give Up”? It looks like Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s shiny campaign slogan has been reduced to a damp squib, as energy and optimism give way to cold, harsh reality.

With just weeks to go before she takes over as Hong Kong’s new chief executive, our leader-in-waiting does not quite have her “dream team” in place to lead the city out of the doldrums.

She is finalising a line-up that is likely to see 14 out of 16 ministerial posts filled by bureaucrats already in government, most of them internal promotees. The average age of the 15 names on the list so far is 59. Lam has picked only one mild-mannered member of the opposition camp for her cabinet. And the first woman to lead the city has only one principal official, the new health minister, for female company and camaraderie.

Hong Kong’s first female leader finalising cabinet lacking fresh talent or women

So much for new blood, fresh faces, more inclusiveness, and gender equality to heal wounds and win alienated hearts and minds. It sounds like a whole lot of pale, male and stale, if you ask me.

So much for new blood, fresh faces, more inclusiveness, and gender equality to heal wounds

On a particularly concerning note, just look at what’s happening with the two most important jobs in her administration. Incumbent justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung has had a bellyful under the outgoing government and was keen to quit, but it looks like he has agreed to take one for the team and stay on for now. It’s no secret that Lam doesn’t want Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po either, “tainted” as he is by his friendship with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, from whom she is trying to distance herself. But he’s also staying on for now. Huzzah.

Lam has suggested several times that capable people she has identified are hesitant to work in her kitchen because they find it too hot. In this toxic political climate in which top government officials are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and will be inheriting the unholy mess that Leung leaves behind on Lam’s table, the heat in this kitchen is going to be hellish.

Why give up more rewarding careers in the private sector when life in public service means mostly pain and precious little pleasure? The allure of executive power and privilege shrinks at the prospect of being personally blamed in global broadcasts for every ill in this city. Few would want to paint a target on their forehead for missiles, both figurative and literal, to be thrown at them in a rabidly dysfunctional legislature full of petulant politicians.

More than just expertise, it takes a fair bit of guts and self-sacrifice to be a principal official these days

More than just expertise in the relevant field and leadership skills, it takes a fair bit of guts and self-sacrifice to be a principal official these days, along with rhino-thick skin to fend off the brickbats.

Such well-rounded individuals are apparently an endangered species, though I find it hard to believe that in a city of well over seven million people, we can’t find more than a couple of new faces to help Lam administer the booster shot in the arm for Hong Kong.

Lest my words cause offence to her new team members before even giving them a chance to prove themselves, let me clarify that I’m not suggesting they’re undeserving or incompetent. They’re mostly seasoned administrative officers who know how to keep the machine running, and stability is important in these troubled times.

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After all, there’s a lot of talk about allowing a cooling-off period, the idea being that in the traumatic wake of Leung’s bull-in-a-China-shop style of governance, everyone will appreciate a break.

That’s all fine and dandy, but let’s not lull ourselves into a false sense of security. The myriad problems facing this city are piling up, and the old ways of dealing with them are obviously not working.

It’s time for bold new thinking and disruptive innovation. Where are the leaders to make it happen?

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post