Luck of Lam appears to be running out

After a relatively long political honeymoon, Carrie Lam has been rudely awakened by the illegal structures at the homes of the new justice secretary

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 January, 2018, 2:08am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 January, 2018, 2:08am

The opposition has got the political scandal it so craved ever since Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor became the city’s chief. The making of one doesn’t entirely depend on sinfulness or criminality; it’s really about whether it hits people at the gut level, and induces a sense of outrage and unfairness.

That’s what the fiasco with the new justice minister, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, is about. She is to be the city’s lawman or lawwoman, yet she broke the law with large illegal structures all over her two luxury homes with her wealthy husband.

When she was exposed, she claimed ignorance. It doesn’t just cause outrage among the public, but a sense of satisfaction that the wealthy and privileged are getting their just deserts. But if this was all there was, the “scandal” might still blow over. What is worse has been Lam’s breathtakingly inept handling. She should have either let her go, or made her defend herself. If Cheng survives, she passes a major test. If not, throw her to the wolves.

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Instead, Lam has taken complete ownership of the fiasco and assumed the job of defending Cheng – to the point of literally stepping in front of her to speak to the camera and lawmakers.

As if the opposition didn’t have enough ammunition already, Lam volunteered some more in the legislature: Cheng would be allowed several months to finish her private work in arbitration in Hong Kong and teaching duties at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

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Now that Cheng has messed up, couldn’t the government tell her to forget about arbitration and teaching? Seriously, they couldn’t find a replacement at the university?

Lam said Cheng was not “experienced” and might not be “politically sensitive enough”. If so, what is Cheng doing in this hyper politically sensitive job?

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The lamest excuses have been offered which even Lam tacitly recognises as unconvincing. Before the legislature, she said “being busy and working in the public interest … may not seem like adequate explanations [for Cheng’s oversight], but what if they are true?”

Everyone is busy in Hong Kong, Mrs Lam. A less charitable way to put it is that Cheng just didn’t care. Lam pleaded for tolerance and understanding. But the public actually enjoys the whole spectacle.

Lam has had a relatively long political honeymoon. I had wished it was due to skills. Now it looks more like luck, and it may be running out.