Equal Opportunities Commission

Lam Woon-kwong's controversial role as equal rights defender

As Equal Opportunities Commission chief, Lam Woon-kwong has drawn praise and criticism

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2013, 6:09am

Lam Woon-kwong has earned acclaim in recent years for speaking out for equality and more rights for minority groups as head of the equalities watchdog.

His efforts as chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission earned praise from activists, but his return to government service as Executive Council convenor has dragged him into a row about potential conflicts of interest.

Lam, 62, joined the government in 1974, and rose to head the Education Department before the handover. After 1997, he served as civil service chief and secretary for home affairs, and led the Office of the Chief Executive under former leader Tung Chee-hwa.

After quitting the government in 2005, Lam took charge of the Equestrian Company, and organised the sport's events in Hong Kong for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In 2010, Lam was appointed chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and became Executive Council convenor last June.

However, his dual role in Exco and the EOC prompted lawmakers to demand his resignation from the council because the job could damage the commission's reputation for independence.

Lam snubbed the calls and continued to speak up for minority groups, including supporting consultation and legislation to protect sexual minorities, which Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying declined to endorse.

His stance won him recognition among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, and openly gay lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen even suggested Lam should replace Leung as chief executive. "If [Leung] is not up to the job, he should step down and make way for someone with a better insight and sense of responsibility, and maybe Lam Woon-kwong is the best candidate," Chan wrote in an article in The Sun, published on January 18.

However, some other activists, including Fermi Wong Wai-fun, executive director of Unison, which helps minorities, said Lam had done too little to promote equality in the city. She also said discrimination against ethnic minorities, especially in education policies, had not improved during Lam's tenure as EOC chairman - which ends next month.