My Take

Carrie Lam puts priority on pay rise for civil servants

CY Leung’s eagerness to get funding for the HK$1 billion belt-and-road scholarship scheme above other pressing matters is misguided

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2016, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2016, 10:54pm

The chief executive wanted a fight. The chief secretary would rather not. It looks like Leung Chun-ying has caved.

The government would not try to arm-twist the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee into approving HK$1 billion in funding for a scholarship scheme under the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the government’s second-in-command, said.

Hong Kong government won’t jump queue on ‘Belt and Road’ scholarship funding, says Carrie Lam

“We won’t jump the queue or delay any items that are ready because our ultimate aim is to pass as many funding requests as possible before [Legco’s] summer recess in July,” she said.

Leung, her boss, had thought he could have his way by inserting the scholarship scheme ahead of a funding request for pay rises for civil servants. He had hoped that could be done before the end of the current legislative session in July. He overestimated what little support he had, even among government-friendly lawmakers.

The scholarship scheme aims to finance student exchanges between Hong Kong and dozens of countries covered by the belt-and-road programme.

Leung mentioned “belt and road” dozens of times in his January policy speech. It appears his enthusiasm was undiminished for Beijing’s ambitious trade and diplomatic initiative, seeing how much he wanted to get the scholarship funding passed quickly. For that, he was willing to break a truce with pan-democrats to let the Finance Committee approve funding requests for uncontroversial items first.

Hong Kong’s lowest-earning civil servants to get biggest pay rise

It was not only the pan-democrats who threatened to filibuster till kingdom come; even Wong Kwok-kin, Chan Kin-por and Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, pillars of the legislative establishment, questioned Leung’s urgency in trying to get the funding before the summer recess. There are more than 30 funding items on the committee’s agenda ahead of the belt-and-road scholarship scheme.

Leung might have thought by forcing another round of pan-democratic filibustering ahead of the September Legco elections, he could put the opposition in a bad light.

Lam, a career civil servant, realises there is nothing more important than getting the pay rise for her government colleagues. If the administration and pan-dems came to blows and the civil service pay request was subsequently dropped, the backlash would be against Leung and Lam herself.

The chief executive is not an unintelligent man. But he is letting his loyalty to Beijing cloud his sense of political reality. Lam at least knows her priorities.