Say what you like about Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the retiring chief executive and former career civil servant does take care of her own. The city’s 180,000 civil servants are set to get a big raise. The salary increases could range from 2.04 per cent for junior staff to 7.26 per cent for those at the top. If approved, the suggested 7.26 increase would be the most generous since the 1997 handover. Some government insiders are upset. Executive Council member and one-time chief executive-wannabe Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said she was “shocked” and that such big raises would be difficult for the public to accept as more than 200,000 people were either unemployed or underemployed. Fellow councillors Ip Kwok-him, Ronny Tong Ka-wah and Tommy Cheung Yu-yan have also expressed concerns, though they are more amenable to raising wages for those in the lower ranks. Others have argued that such a big decision should be made by the incoming chief executive, rather than by Lam. That’s one way to look at it. Another is that incoming John Lee Ka-chiu needs a morale boost for the civil service, especially among the elite administrative officers (AOs). Morale is reportedly at a record low. Almost 2,000 civil servants quit in 2020-21, the most in 15 years. Top advisers to Hong Kong’s leader shocked by proposed pay rise for civil servants Many have been unhappy about the compulsory loyalty oath they had to take. But of course, even if the salary rises are seen as necessary, shouldn’t the low ranks get more and the higher-ups, already highly paid, get less? There is an alternative interpretation. Lee wants a rise for his top people, knowing how unhappy many are about his election/appointment as a former policeman. It means the era of dominance for the elite administrative officers is well and truly over. Lee still wants to be the tough guy/bad cop, though, and so Lam, in one of her last acts, will play the good cop and help out her former AO colleagues. That would go towards placating the civil service elite without Lee having to look “soft”. Despite his short time as chief secretary, Lee actually has little administrative experience. He will need all the help he can get.