Carrie Lam calls on civil servants to ‘work in unison’, promising new governing style
In letter dated July 1, the date of her inauguration as chief executive, Lam promises to ‘relieve pressure on frontline colleagues’ and improve working environment
Hong Kong’s new leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has appealed to the city’s 170,000 civil servants to “work in unison” with her to fulfil her redefined roles of government as service provider and business facilitator, promising to reduce frontline pressure and improve policy implementation.
The call came in a letter dated July 1, the day Lam was sworn in by President Xi Jinping, who asked the new administration to come up with “a brilliant report card” by considering national interest, standing firm in the face of pressure and maintaining unity in fulfilling its duties.
While the former chief secretary said she took pride in the civil service, in which she served for nearly 37 years before becoming the city’s leader, Lam said she had noticed that public servants were facing growing pressure and that there was a need to redefine the government’s role.
“Hong Kong’s politics have changed in recent years. Public expectations of government administration continue to rise. Social confrontations increase, and public servants often bear the brunt. The pressure faced by our colleagues is growing immensely,” she wrote.
Lam said she had proposed in her manifesto a new style of governance and new roles for the government in recognition of the need to change under new circumstances.
“Without compromising public interests, we should review organisational structures and operational procedures in a timely way, simplify processes and delegate powers, and define clear work goals and administrative guidelines with an open mind,” Lam continued.
She said the objective of these proposed improvements was not just to enhance administrative efficiency but to “reduce pressure on frontline colleagues and create a reassuring and enabling working environment for everyone”.
Elaborating on her ideas about the government’s role, she said policy implementation needed to be “more closely aligned with public opinion” in order to achieve social harmony and reinforce confidence in the administration.
“This government seeks to serve as a high-quality public service provider, regulator, facilitator and promoter. I trust all colleagues, across all departments, will work in unison to fulfil these roles.
“Civil servants are part of the community of Hong Kong. We all call this city our home; it is where our heart belongs and where we share a destiny. With your united support, I am sure we can bring new hopes and prospects to Hong Kong and build an even brighter future for all,” Lam concluded.
Before winning the city’s top job in March, Lam was development secretary from 2007 to 2012, handling the sensitive issues of land supply and conservation.
As chief secretary, the city’s No 2 official, from 2012 to January this year, Lam was in charge of a bid to achieve a popular ballot for the chief executive. The reform package was eventually voted down by the legislature.
Senior Government Officers Association chairman Steven Wong Hung-lok said Lam seemed to have a better understanding of civil servants’ worries and problems than her predecessor Leung Chun-ying.
“It is true that our pressure is now bigger because we need to go to the district and legislative councils ... more frequently,” he said.
Wong also welcomed Lam’s proposal to simplify processes and define clear guidelines, saying the administration’s operational procedures “can be quite complicated”.
“Officers have to seek clear advice from each supervisory level ... Now the chief executive’s [review] means we can be more efficient,” he told the Post.
However, he also said some issues remained unaddressed in Lam’s letter.
“We have been calling for the setting up of a public administration or civil servants’ academy to offer more training. It will help us ... to handle large-scale public consultation exercises,” he said, referring to occasions where civil servants could face activists or protesters.
Policy areas to tackle
On her first workday in office, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor set forth how she planned to resolve some outstanding issues:
MPF offsetting mechanism
Lam vowed to scrap the Mandatory Provident Fund offsetting mechanism, a controversial arrangement that allows employers to dip into workers’ pension funds for severance and long-service payments. She made clear she would not proceed with the solution her predecessor had left for her.
Just a week before Leung Chun-ying stepped down, the former leader secured the Executive Council’s backing for his proposal to scrap the off-setting mechanism, which would give employers a subsidy of HK$7.9 billion to tide them over for 10 years and a watered-down formula for laid-off employees.
Lam said the proposal had left both employers and unions unhappy.
“The government needs to take a leading role in this,” she said.
West Kowloon terminus checkpoint
Lam noted local legislation for the co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon terminus had to be finished by June next year. Beijing and Hong Kong have yet to agree on immigration checkpoints for the HK$84.4 billion cross-border rail link, which was scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2018.
Lam stressed the arrangement did not come from Beijing and was proposed by former leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to allow Hong Kong to fully take advantage of the high-speed rail.
She claimed to fully understand pan-democrats’ concerns about mainland officials working in the city, saying it would be a “tough war” to win over public opinion.
Once describing the real estate investment trust giant Link Reit as one of “three mountains” for the government to tackle, Lam now conceded she found no practical way to intervene. But she insisted the markets now run by the Link had improved their conditions.
Another “mountain” is MTR fare increases amid the operator’s profits. Lam said yesterday she considered the problem settled after holding talks with MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang. In her campaign, she suggested using government dividends to subsidise certain long-distance fares.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung