From tolls to reclamation, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s policies show open disdain for the very people she should be serving

  • Alice Wu says the chief executive’s work ethic is not in question, but her interest in the people and their opinions is another matter
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2018, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 October, 2018, 3:17pm

Since the chief executive unveiled her second policy address, which featured what she clearly felt to be very bold measures, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been busy doing her media rounds and defending her decisions.

Lam obviously anticipated resistance. When asked how she felt about her policy address’s low approval rating – the second-lowest score given to a leader in the city since 2010 – she said that, with so many measures, the policy address was bound to upset people. Her political calculus seems sound – at least she does not espouse a “the less you do, the less chance for you to commit an error” attitude.

But Lam has been wearing her arrogance on her sleeve. Take her cross-harbour tunnel toll plans, for example. She talked down to lawmakers who oppose them, saying she understood that legislators would oppose the change because they are afraid of losing votes, as if she is “above it all”.

Lam admits that any rise in public transport fares or tolls is contentious, but she failed to remember that the job of the government, and especially of the chief executive in an executive-led political system, is to explain and, yes, sell policies to the public.

Lawmakers, even pro-government ones, questioned whether diverting traffic would resolve the congestion. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong’s Ben Chan Han-pan questioned the policy’s effectiveness, particularly whether the diverted traffic would cause congestion elsewhere. Lam’s non-answer? That the policy was based on results from a Transport Department study.

However unpopular, tunnel tolls in Hong Kong must rise

Lam went as far as expressing how little she cared about those plans’ actual approval, saying, “I don’t want [transport officials] to be summoned to the legislature every day to talk about something that no one has a solution for.”

Never mind, of course, that conducting the business of politics involves a lot of talking, every day, about finding solutions that may not be there. Her know-it-all and I-know-best arrogance and, hence, her disdain for the democratic process will ultimately be her demise.

But at least we can’t accuse her of being inconsistent. It was the same attitude for the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” that led her to pull the rug from under the Land Supply Task Force she had set up and all the work they had done. If her thoughts on “losing votes” is any guide, the thousands who came out to protest against her proposal to reclaim 1,700 hectares of land will be brushed off just as easily.

Carrie Lam’s vision for Hong Kong puts real estate developers first

Lam’s overconfidence and easy disregard for others has made her unresponsive to political realities. It’s no wonder she remains blind to the logic behind the idea, put forward by Hong Kong Vision, from the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, of initiating work on enacting Article 23 and constitutional reform together. Arrogance, indeed, has many blind spots.

For Lam and many others, the well-known ancient Chinese adage for good leaders – to be hardworking and to love the people – doesn’t seems to apply. Lam is no doubt hardworking, but her open disdain for the people’s voice and vote, and her inability to grasp why she botched her post-typhoon arrangements is indicative of her lack of love for the people. Lam’s incapacity for humility is also why she has failed to see the painful lesson that the management of the MTR Corporation had to learn.

People will need to be convinced if the city is to really strive ahead

Perhaps getting every day people’s support does not score brownie points with the powers-that-be in Beijing. Unfortunately, there is a growing tendency within the pro-establishment bloc to follow Lam’s example. Eager and hardworking in showing their achievements and to echo strongly worded “stances”, many politicians are neglecting the very basics of public service.

Serving the public requires love for the people. To see the people you’ve been entrusted to serve as obstacles to achieving one’s spectacular plans will be the beginning of your end.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA