Carrie Lam spurs outrage among Hong Kong protesters for not taking petition as promised
City’s former No 2 official also criticised for past policies at event with social workers
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the front runner in Hong Kong’s chief executive election, angered grassroots protesters on Friday when she walked away and left a forum through a back door instead of taking their petition as promised.
During the event with social workers, she also attracted criticism for her past policies, even though it was the profession with which she worked closely when she was social services director and chief secretary. However, her pledge to plan for a children’s commission upon winning the March 26 election received praise.
Social welfare was Lam’s strong point throughout her public service experience, but now it has put her in a difficult position especially among business sectors which fear she would support welfarism to the detriment of economic development.
Though she has sought to allay such worries, she has, at the same time, appealed to the general public by reiterating her continued focus on helping the poor, the old and the needy.
The welfare sector in the Election Committee did not give the former chief secretary any nominations as it comprised only pan-democrats, who view Lam as a pro-Beijing figure.
Her attempt to win social workers’ hearts further turned sour on Friday when her team decided to bypass dozens of protesters from grassroots and pro-workers’ groups at a forum organised by the welfare sector in Wan Chai. They were petitioning for universal pension and democracy.
“I’m so disappointed with her,” said Law Pui-shan of Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs. “It is the most basic [thing] for someone running for top office to meet protesters and hear their voices. She ought to connect to society.”
Another protester, a woman surnamed Yeung who asked a question at the forum, lambasted her as a “liar”.
“She told the audience she wasn’t late when we waited for her for an hour,” Yeung said. “And she said receiving letters or not was only a trivial matter. This is so insulting to us, the grassroots.”
Lam’s campaign chief Bernard Chan, surrounded by protesters, claimed that her exit was due to “security concerns”.
At the forum, Lam refused to cancel the lump sum grant for social workers’ employers, a policy that had been widely criticised by unionists, although she agreed to look into ways to improve it.
On the plan for a new children’s commission, she said the formation process would be based on the poverty commission and would start as soon as she took office – if she wins the race – on July 1.
It would take three to four months to work out the exact functions and field relevant people to the “semi-official” unit, but she ruled out overseas examples of turning the commission into a statutory body, saying she would take a step-by-step approach in addressing its status.
During the session, Lam also skirted some participants’ questions on controversial topics such as her relationship with rural stronghold Heung Yee Kuk, and the handling of the Hong Kong Palace Museum project.