Next Hong Kong labour minister faces ‘unpopular’ claims as he seeks better political relations
Founding Democratic Party member deflects charges he is an outsider to new cabinet, highlighting his past roles as lawmaker and government consultant
Hong Kong’s incoming labour and welfare minister is set to face a bumpy road in forging better relations between the new administration and the pan-democrats, already coming under attack on Wednesday for being “unpopular” and “betraying” the social welfare sector.
Dr Law Chi-kwong, the only new face among Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s team of senior officials, is a founding member of the Democratic Party and a long-time University of Hong Kong social work academic. He will be the second pan-democrat to join the government since Hong Kong’s handover in 1997 from British to Chinese rule, after outgoing transport and housing minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung.
“Our whole team will work hard to improve relations between the administration and the legislature,” Law, 63, said. “Some pan-democrats have said it would take more than me alone to improve relations.”
“In the future, we will continue to keep in touch with both the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps.”
He has served on numerous government bodies, including the Commission on Poverty and the Community Care Fund Task Force. He was also a former lawmaker.
But despite all his years working in social work, Law was “highly unpopular” in the field, according to Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung.
Cheung took Law to task for supporting a lump-sum grant policy in 2001, which critics had said allowed social welfare agencies to misuse government funding and ignore the treatment of agency staff.
“Now with his new role in office, I hope Law can right his past wrongs,” he said.
In a separate statement, Cheung’s party accused Law of betraying people in the social work sector.
In response on Wednesday, Law promised to improve the policy.
But the incoming minister declined to discuss his views on the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, saying it was “not suitable” to publicly talk about the subject despite admitting to harbouring his “own views and feelings”. Just two weeks prior, Law said Beijing had the responsibility to give an account of the events because people had lost their lives in the movement.
On Wednesday, he revealed he did not struggle in deciding whether or not to accept the ministerial role. He added he would help prepare Hong Kong for two challenges ahead: an ageing population and a projected shrinking workforce.
As for his being branded the only new face in the new administration, Law disagreed with the assertion.
“Ever since my days in the Legislative Council, working on various committees, particularly as chair of the Community Care Fund Task Force and from time to time serving as a consultant to various bureaus and departments, I’ve been serving in the government in a broad sense.”
He vowed to build partnerships with the business sector, non-governmental organisations and civil society.