New cabinet, new headaches for incoming Hong Kong government even before Day 1

Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam unveils ‘ideal team’ comprising mainly old hands and civil servants, despite promise to assemble diverse group

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 11:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 3:30pm

July 1 is a big day for Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who will be sworn in along with her new team even as the city celebrates the 20th anniversary of its handover from Britain to China. But with more than a week to go before her first day in office, the initial reception to Lam’s freshly unveiled cabinet lineup already points to a rocky start.

The chief executive-elect was all smiles when introducing her “ideal team” on Wednesday, but it soon became clear that she was putting on a brave face.

“Apparently people say there is no pleasant surprise. This also means no shock,” Lam said as she unveiled her 16 principal officials, of whom only one was a newcomer to government.

After saying for months she wanted to assemble a diverse team, only former Democratic Party member Dr Law Chi-kwong, a social policy academic, joined her team, with the rest either inherited from the cabinet of predecessor Leung Chun-ying or inducted from the civil service.

Watch: Carrie Lam presents her cabinet

Lam also failed to realise her earlier ambition to inject new blood into the financial affairs porfolio. Incumbent Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po – handpicked by Leung – is in her core team.

Observers were quick to pounce on Lam’s “ideal team” label and question whether she had been sincere in wanting to bring in fresh ideas.

Reports had swirled earlier that several well-known figures had turned down her invitation to be in the “heat of the kitchen”, while a number of other candidates were allegedly rejected by Beijing.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu doubted Lam’s ability to demonstrate a “new style of governance” with a cabinet made up mostly of incumbents.

Lam’s administration is not expected to enjoy a honeymoon period, as it has to race against time to handle a number of thorny issues, including the establishment of a joint immigration facility for the cross-border railway.

The incoming government is also under mounting pressure from Beijing to enact a national security law and revive national education in schools in the wake of rising separatist sentiment.

The ‘unpopular’ labour chief

Academic Law Chi-kwong – the only pan-democrat joining the ranks – is the one fresh face in a sea of familiar ones on Lam’s cabinet. But even he came under attack on Day 1, with a former ally describing the incoming labour and welfare minister as “highly unpopular” in the field.

Law has promised to improve relations between the new administration and the pan-democrats, but this may be a tall order as he works to meet other challenges, such as the city’s ageing population and projected shrinking workforce.

Next Hong Kong labour minister faces ‘unpopular’ claims as he seeks better political relations

The ‘leftover’ justice minister

A giant question mark hangs over the role of Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, who remained tight-lipped on Wednesday about reports suggesting he would quit before his five-year term ended.

Since Lam won the chief executive election, it has been widely reported that she wanted former Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi for justice secretary, fueling speculation that Yuen would leave next year after sorting out law enforcement issues dogging the city’s cross-border railway project.

Hong Kong justice minister won’t commit to full five years in Carrie Lam’s new cabinet

The ‘novice’ transport secretary

Even before his first day on the job, incoming transport and housing chief Frank Chan Fan has had to face a barrage of questions on his ability to lead the bureau given his lack of policy experience.

The incumbent director of electrical and mechanical services asked the public for time to prove his capabilities “with actions, not words”, but stopped short of answering questions about whether he knew when the controversial high-speed rail link to Guangzhou would be completed, and the waiting time for public housing.

Next Hong Kong transport and housing chief looks to actions, not words, amid others’ doubts

The surprise education pick

The rumoured choice of educator Christine Choi Yuk-lin as the city’s next undersecretary for education has been described as “a slap in the face of voters” after she was soundly defeated in the last Legislative Elections.

As of 9pm on Wednesday more than 1,500 people had signed an online petition against her appointment to the No 2 post in education.

Hong Kong election loser tipped for No 2 job in education bureau