Hong Kong justice minister won’t commit to full five years in Carrie Lam’s new cabinet
Incumbent’s comments raise questions about whether the chief executive-elect’s team was an ideal line-up
Uncertainties were already looming over the unity of incoming leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s cabinet on Wednesday, as her justice chief did not commit on finishing a second five-year term, while her financial secretary dodged questions on whether he was her first choice.
The remarks by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, two of Lam’s top three ministers, raised questions about whether the team was the chief executive-elect’s ideal line-up.
Since Lam won the city’s top job on March 26, it has been widely reported that she wanted former Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi for justice secretary and Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen, Asia chairman of a United States-based insurance firm, for financial chief.
After Yuen was tipped to be reappointed, there were then reports suggesting he would leave next year after sorting out law enforcement issues dogging the city’s cross-border railway project.
Yuen would not confirm this on Wednesday. He would only say: “Time is not the most crucial consideration. From my perspective, what is important is that as long as I remain the secretary for justice, I will do my best to discharge my duties.”
He said his top priority was to “maintain the rule of law”.
A year ago, Yuen was admitted to hospital with intestinal discomfort and was on leave for a few days. In December 2015 he also spent three days in hospital with severe abdominal pain.
But he said he did not have any health problems that would prevent him from doing the job.
“I suppose everyone here ...would have to, from time to time, perhaps consult the doctor or take some medicine. That is human,” he said.
Meeting the media with Yuen, Paul Chan faced a series of questions on whether he was Lam’s first choice. Chan, a trusted accountant promoted by outgoing leader Leung Chun-ying, said he did not know the answer.
“I really don’t know the details. But from my budget speech this February, you can see that my principles on public finance, such as developing the economy, improving livelihoods and investing in the future ... matched what Mrs Lam proposed in her manifesto.”
Separately, Lam said all her ministers “agree with my new style of governance ... while officials on the fiscal side have no disagreement with my new philosophy of public finance management”.
Dismissing the suggestion that she should require more from her financial officials than simply “no disagreement”, Lam said those colleagues needed to be gatekeepers and remind other officials not to spend as they wished.
Lam said she would task Chan with leading a committee comprising financial experts to gauge views on how to further promote Hong Kong’s international financial status.
Demosisto lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung said Lam’s cabinet reflected how little say she had in the choices of ministers.
Citing media reports, Law accused Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong of banning certain names which were previously being floated, such as former Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi for justice secretary.
“We can see the huge influence of the liaison office,” he said. “The new cabinet has failed to convince Hongkongers it can ... defend the principle of ‘one country, two systems’.”