Carrie Lam

Our top politicians must take a break to stay on track

'All work, no play' lifestyle of government's two top jobholders are a cause for concern

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 5:31am

"You look slimmer and slimmer."

What would be the likely reaction from a woman receiving this comment? Happy because she assumes it a compliment, or worried, taking it as a warning of ill health?

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has been receiving this remark a little too often, said she knew it was made out of concern for her as she was noticeably losing weight.

She revealed that her weight loss stemmed from a lack of sleep - which is understandable for a woman in her position.

The number two in this busy city, Lam has been seen almost everywhere of late.

She was one of the key figures tackling the national education controversy. She chaired the task force handling the plastic pellet disaster in July after Typhoon Vicente knocked six cargo containers full of the stuff into the sea. She doused the sport sector's furious fire by promising to keep the Kai Tak sports complex.

And most recently, she negotiated with the school headmasters who had protested against the government's decision to cut down their class sizes.

She has also made public appearances almost every weekend, speaking on radio or attending functions commenting on the latest hot topic.

But like any other human being, Lam has just seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day. So she has chosen to sacrifice sleep.

And as a consequence, she achieved - by accident - a goal many women desire: weight loss.

People close to Lam told the South China Morning Post that just four months into her new post, she has already lost about 9kg.

Besides the mounting work pressures, Lam is alone in Hong Kong. Her husband and son are in the UK.

She told a group of university students at a recent dialogue that she sometimes felt "lonely" in her grand chief secretary mansion up on the Peak.

It would appear that apart from her role as chief secretary, Lam also yearns to fulfil her other roles as mother and wife.

And what about our chief executive Leung Chun-ying?

His routine of non-stop work is more or less similar to Lam's.

Even before he won the top job in March, Leung had already begun working seven days a week. It was only in early August that he allowed himself to take a five-day holiday in Thailand with his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

But the Leungs' happy occasion coincided with the plastic pellet spill from Typhoon Vicente, and he was criticised for leaving Hong Kong while the city's beaches were littered with millions of little white bits.

But Hongkongers are not unreasonable. When Leung returned and it was made public that the holiday was for the couple's anniversary, criticism gradually subsided.

This is the 21st century after all: Leung would have been armed with all the necessary gadgets of modern communication. So why not give him a break?

Back to the super-hot kitchen of his government headquarters, Leung is immersing himself and his principle officials in various "deep-rooted" problems, such as housing and poverty.

And aside from the many livelihood issues the city faces, there is a new dilemma: which direction should relations between the city and the mainland take?

The fact party secretary general Hu Jintao, for the first time, called on Hongkongers to share with all people in the country the dignity of being Chinese speaks volumes about Beijing's concerns.

Hong Kong is a pluralistic and diverse city. The challenges it is facing are multi-dimensional.

Our leaders may need to realise that hard work may be a virtue, but it is not necessarily a guarantee of success.

So, work hard… But also play hard to refresh your minds so that sound judgments can be made regardless of the difficulty or complexity of the situation.

The public has the right to expect our leaders to be in good shape both mentally and physically.

Lam, who will be visiting the UK this week, should squeeze some time from her busy schedule to meet her family for a much-needed get-together.

When she returns, she and Leung will face more tough challenges ahead, one of which will be to get the pulse of the latest Hong Kong policy from Beijing's new leadership to prepare the city for a smoother implementation of the one country, two systems.