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Carrie Lam

Why Carrie Lam could not afford a Hong Kong flat despite her HK$7 million pension

Chief executive recalls her retirement plans last year before U-turn to take top job. She also tackles thorny questions at student forum

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 6:06pm

Hong Kong’s leader said on Monday she could not afford to buy a flat in the urban areas of the city when she was considering retirement last year, despite her HK$7 million pension.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was speaking on TVB programme Straight Talk, to be screened on Tuesday. She said she could afford only a HK$15 million flat with three bedrooms in the New Territories.

Lam, who still does not own a home in Hong Kong, was discussing how she would tackle housing problems in the city as her priority over the next five years when she made the candid remark.

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“When I quit the civil service and joined [the ministerial level of] principal officials, my lump sum pension was only a mere HK$7 million,” she said.

Lam added that even if she had bought the New Territories flat, it would have wiped out her pension and required her to dip into her savings over the next few years.

She said she did not buy the flat because “other things have happened”.

In December last year, then chief executive Leung Chun-ying shocked the city when he announced he would not seek re-election. In a U-turn, Lam,who was chief secretary and considering retirement at the time, announced she would run for the top job.

She now lives at Government House in Central. She said she did not own property because she had been living in government quarters since becoming a civil servant.

Separately, during a forum held by the Federation of Youth Groups with some 260 students on Monday, Lam was asked why her policy address last week focused on home ownership instead of making the rental market more affordable.

She said owning a home would increase the sense of belonging among Hongkongers and allow them to hold an asset and release its value when needed. “Land is the most valuable in Hong Kong,” she added.

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On other issues, Lam sidestepped questions on by-elections to fill the Legislative Council seats of four lawmakers disqualified over improper oath-taking.

She was asked by one student how she would “connect” with young people amid simmering political tension in recent months involving the ousted legislators and also legal challenges by the government to seek harsher sentences for activists.

“How will you mend the tear and distrust between the government and young people? Will you promise not to use any measures to disqualify any candidate running for the by-election in March?” the student asked.

Lam refused to make any promises, saying the by-election would be organised by the independent Electoral Affairs Commission in accordance with the law, so she could not interfere.

She added that the legal reviews sought by the Department of Justice were based on the rule of law, which was “Hong Kong’s greatest core value”, and the courts were an “absolutely independent” judicial system.

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“No matter how sincere I am to connect with youth, I have my bottom line, which is acting in accordance with the law ... I believe your parents love all of you, but they have their bottom line. Will they encourage you to do drugs or not to study?” Lam said.

Several participants at the forum also asked Lam about plans to tackle the pressure young people faced under the education system, citing a string of recent student suicides.

Lam said the government was “very concerned and saddened” by the suicides but it would be hard to tell if the suicides were caused mainly by problems at school.

She said enabling creativity and encouraging curiosity would be the future direction of education.

“We will work hard to relax the restrictions of the education system to allow more space for children to dream,” Lam said.

She said the government would review whether there was excessive pressure on young people caused by examinations and parents.