C Y Leung names Christine Loh new environmental undersecretary
Civic Exchange founder's appointment as new undersecretary for environment raises hopes for action on air quality and waste issues
Cheung Chi-fai and Lo Wei
The arrival of an environmental heavyweight at the Environment Bureau could see Hong Kong's green policy moving in the right direction.
Christine Loh Kung-wai, a former lawmaker and head of think tank Civic Exchange, has been appointed undersecretary for the environment.
Loh, moving into government for the first time, was keen to start work with her new boss, Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing, as soon as the appointment was announced yesterday.
Loh's priority tasks will be air quality, waste management and nature conservation, and she believes positive changes can be made regardless of other battles the government is now fighting.
Loh said she decided to join the administration not only because she believed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was serious about improving the environment, but also because it gave her the opportunity to influence the public policy she has spent 12 years researching.
"The one thing I have not done in my career is to be on the executive side, where I have a chance to set policy," she said. "This is something I'd like to do now. I think it is possible to do something within the C.Y. Leung administration, together with the minister."
Loh also revealed that she did not seek the post but was approached by Leung. She had previously met the chief executive at a tea-gathering with the recruitment committee he formed in June, and had met him and Wong several times before that.
The new undersecretary has been critical of the public policy decision-making process, but said she would co-operate with the civil service and learn how to move things within government. Trained as a lawyer and having worked as a commodity trader, Loh ventured into politics as an appointed legislative councillor in 1992. She won another two direct elections in 1995 and 1998, but decided to quit before the 2000 poll.
At the height of her political career, she created a bill to protect the harbour from reclamation and challenged inheritance rights of New Territories males.
Loh later founded Civic Exchange. She was also a senior policy adviser to C40, an international climate change network.
But her extensive networks and career profile have also raised eyebrows and suspicions.
Her think tank received local and overseas funding for projects, including HK$740,000 from CLP Power, on a nuclear project last year. Civic Exchange also received HK$74,000 from ExxonMobil and Koala Resources on a conservation policy project established in 2010.
Koo Wai-muk, a Greenpeace campaigner, said the government should increase transparency in its dealings and negotiations with power firms, given their perceived links with Loh.
"We are worried Wong might be less competent in negotiating with the power firms, while Loh might be too lax," he said.
"If this is the case, it could plunge the public into a crisis of confidence."
Loh said yesterday that none of those funded projects were for the sponsors' purposes and those sponsors would have no influence on her new job.
Cheung Hok-ming, vice-chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk rural body, said the kuk would co-operate with officials on environmental matters.
"We are open-minded towards Loh," he said.