Carrie Lam’s top choice for Hong Kong justice secretary turns down job

Problem for chief executive-elect in filling post, with Beijing apparently not sold on either of her preferred choices

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 10:25am

One of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s shortlisted candidates for the thorny post of justice secretary has turned down the job and there is no guarantee another choice will win the approval of state leaders, sources close to the situation have said.

With incumbent Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung determined to leave when the administration’s term expires on June 30, it is proving one of the most difficult cabinet posts for Lam to fill.

Two senior counsel, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, chairwoman of the Financial Dispute Resolution Centre, and Johnny Mok Shiu-luen, a Basic Law Committee member, have been tipped.

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Cheng, who also chaired the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission and the Transport Advisory Committee, was acclaimed by Lam in a radio interview and was seen as the preferred choice.

But according to sources close to Lam, Cheng had already turned down the offer.

Sources with ties to Beijing suggested the central government warmly welcomed neither Cheng nor Mok.

“The fact that Mok is in the Basic Law Committee does not mean he’s got absolute trust from Beijing,” the source, who preferred anonymity, said.

“There are many legal disputes coming up, like the row over the joint immigration checkpoint at the future West Kowloon terminus,” he said, referring to the law enforcement issue arising from the cross-border high-speed railway due to start operating next year.

“There are concerns from Beijing that Mok would stand firm on his principles and may not cooperate with Beijing’s will.”

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Hong Kong lawyers in general have strong reservations about mainland interpretations of the Basic Law, the city’s constitution, arguing local courts can handle most cases.

Mok represented the government in the legal move last year to disqualify two pro-independence lawmakers, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, after they swore allegiance to a “Hong Kong nation” when taking their oaths of office. The case is now under appeal.

Mok and Cheung could not be reached for comment by Thursday night.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a vice-chairman of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, agreed that Beijing upheld a higher standard for the post under the complicated political environment. He did not comment on the potential candidates.

“Beijing would like to adopt a more proactive approach on utilising the legal power under the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law, in order to protect and safeguard national security and interests,” Lau said. “It is forseeable that the legal sector of Beijing and Hong Kong would work closer, with interpretation of the Basic Law as one crucial way to govern Hong Kong.”

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Lam is also having trouble finding a financial secretary. It is common knowledge in business circles that financiers Peter Wong Tung-shun and Laura Cha Shih May-lung have rejected her offers.

The hot tip to take over as education minister is the president of Education University, Professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung. His lobbying skills in elevating the institute to university status were acclaimed in political circles.

On Tuesday, after meeting President Xi Jinping in Beijing, Lam told the media Xi had “noted” her intention to find talent to join her cabinet regardless of political affiliation. She said she would not confirm any names at this stage.