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Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam ‘faces hard task in filling cabinet’, senior aide says

Exco member Bernard Chan says there are too many barriers discouraging able candidates and that more must be done to attract talented people

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 April, 2017, 2:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 2:03am

Executive councillor Bernard Chan said on Sunday that ­Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor faced a ­difficult task in forming a capable cabinet by July 1 and more had to be done to attract ­talented people.

The three barriers Lam faces are: the ­demands of Beijing, the refusal of pan-democrats to join the administration and an ­increasingly ­politicised society that had put off many possible candidates.

In a radio show on Saturday, the newly elected chief executive admitted: “I once had a nightmare that I did not have enough people to swear in on July 1.”

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While Lam attributed the difficulties to the “hot kitchen” of government, Chan, who managed Lam’s election campaign, said: “There is no system to encourage people to serve society. At present, it’s like you have to beg people to join you in the sea of flames.”

High-fliers in business or professional fields often find it difficult to join the government as what they were doing – and had done in the past – would be subject to close scrutiny.

In 2012, seasoned civil servant Mak Chai-kwong stepped down as development minister after just 12 days amid allegations of a housing subsidy fraud dating back more than two decades. He was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. A year later, his political assistant, Henry Ho Kin-chung, quit for failing to declare his family’s stake in land at a proposed new town.

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Lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin, of the Federation of Trade Unions, admitted it was not easy to convince talented people to join the government as their records had to be “whiter than white”.

“Capability is not the most important criteria as top officials are now required to have a very high EQ [emotional intelligence] in handling criticisms in legislature meetings,” Wong said.

“Not to mention he or she should also be trusted by the central government.”

At present, it’s like you have to beg people to join you in the sea of flames
Bernard Chan, executive councillor

All principal officials –alongside the chief executive – have to be approved by Beijing, and there were signs of the central government involvement in the selection process last time. Five years ago, arts advocate Ada Wong Ying-kay was tipped to lead a culture bureau, a new branch proposed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying but never established.

Leung later opted for Florence Hui Hiu-fai, undersecretary of the Home Affairs Bureau, amid reports that the central government had reservations about Wong’s close ties with pan-democrats.

When then-president Hu Jintao met Leung he also rolled out three criteria for ­officials, including capability and responsibility.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai called on Lam to stand firm on picking her own preferred team instead of receiving those recommended by Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.

The Democrats had reiterated its firm stance that no party member would be allowed to join the government.

That meant veteran Dr Law Chi-kwong, tipped to head the ­Labour and Welfare Bureau, would have to quit the party if he wanted to get on board.

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“We did not ban anyone from joining the government,” Wu said, suggesting that someone interested in a post could quit the party. “[Lam] should stop laying the blame on Democrats as if everything would turn out great should the pan-democrats offer the green light.”

Bernard Chan said the government’s promotion ladder should be reviewed to give undersecretaries the opportunity to become ministers. “It would in fact be easier to find undersecretaries in the future. It would be more encouraging if there was such a promotion ladder.”

The risk was higher if a minister was appointed from outside the government because there was no chance to observe how well they would perform until he or she was appointed, he said.