Carrie Lam’s weak cabinet invites Beijing interference
It’s difficult to see how Hong Kong’s new leader will meet the challenges the city faces after unveiling her team of has-beens and second-choice wannabes
Did Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor just introduce her new cabinet? I wasn’t sure for a second because the new ministers looked very much like the old ones.
Well, with all the incumbents and a few deputies now promoted to the top posts, there are even fewer non-civil servants here than any cabinet in the last 20 years. Disgracefully, there is only one woman – Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee as secretary for food and health – not counting Lam herself.
This is the cabinet that completely lacks diversity in gender and professional backgrounds, exactly the opposite of what Lam had initially promised. Winston Churchill once dubbed the coalition government of Bonar Law “the second eleven” because the best people simply refused to serve in it. This is Lam’s “second eleven”. It is clearly not her A-list, and she admits as much. There were no pleasant surprises, she quipped, but there were no shocking choices either. Judging by this very low bar, her selection is a qualified success.
Public service in today’s Hong Kong offers no rewards for capable people, only punishments. Lam had been saying all along that she had a tough time filling the top posts. And if all the rumours and unconfirmed reports are anything to go by, some qualified people were approached, but they either declined or were rejected by the central government.
Still, Lam may not be too displeased. She now has all her civil service buddies working for her. As she said, they had plenty of experience working together. They are also guaranteed not to rock the boat, or the ship of state. But then, who are the people capable of steering the government to confront all the debilitating problems plaguing Hong Kong today?
Her new ministers do not look promising; many look tired and weak, without an iota of authority or conviction. A government that projects weakness can only invite contempt.
Lam can throw money at vested interests, such as the HK$5 billion she has promised for the education sector. But where her hands are tied, she will likely have to rely increasingly on the prestige and influence of the Beijing emissaries in Hong Kong to get anything done, say, to rein in the business and property cartels, and the Heung Yee Kuk and rural bullies in the New Territories. It may be time to acknowledge that not all mainland interference is necessarily bad.