Hong Kong Customs blazes trail for women in law enforcement with first female officer tipped for top role
- The Post is told Louise Ho, assistant commissioner at Customs and Excise, could take over at the top job in three years’ time
Louise Ho Pui-shan is set to take over the second most powerful job in customs, the Post has learned, putting her on track to lead the government agency in about three years, which would make her the first woman to rise through the ranks to head one of Hong Kong’s disciplined services.
More women are expected to follow in her footsteps and take up senior roles within the uniformed ranks as more of them join up and old gender stereotypes are discarded, an academic said.
Ho, the Customs and Excise Department’s assistant commissioner in charge of boundary and ports, will take up the deputy position next month, according to a senior government source. The 50-year-old is expected to ascend to the top post when the current commissioner, Hermes Tang Yi-hoi, retires in late 2021.
“Ho has extensive experience in investigations. Her outgoing personality also fits the top post. She’s a tough lady and we believe she can lead the 7,400-member department,” the source said.
“The succession also fits the philosophy of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who, when she was elected last year, vowed to promote more people from within the administration and more women leaders.”
The first female head of the disciplinary force was Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. However, Ip was a career bureaucrat. She was parachuted into the Immigration Department in 1996 and ran it for two years before becoming security minister.
After Lam was elected city leader last year, the customs authority also broke an 18-year convention of appointing career bureaucrats by naming Tang, one of its own officers, to lead the office.
Lawrence Ho Ka-ki, assistant professor of social sciences at the Education University of Hong Kong, said such conventions hurt internal promotion opportunities and that female officers would now see more chances of climbing the ranks with the government’s change of tack.
“In the case of customs and the immigration authority, there has been an increasing percentage of female recruits in the past decade as they expanded, so it is very likely more female senior management will pop up,” said Lawrence Ho. “Our chief executive is a woman too, of course.”
He added that law enforcement and business were male-dominated in the past but this was no longer the case.
Of the five disciplined forces in the city, official figures show that the Immigration Department has the highest percentage of female uniformed staff, accounting for 30 per cent of its 6,810 service staff.
It is followed by customs and the correctional services authority, with a fifth of officers in each of these departments being women.
Louise Ho joined the department in 1991. In her current posting, she has worked on high-profile projects, including the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, and was tasked with ensuring the openings of both ran smoothly.
Previously, she was the head of Customs’ Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau, before rising to assistant commissioner responsible for intelligence and investigation.
Ho’s husband is the current director of immigration, Erick Tsang Kwok-wai. But there is no chance of the couple heading departments at the same time as Tsang is to retire in two years.
Bonnie Lo Hoi-sze, the first chairwoman of the Association of Customs and Excise Service Officers, spoke highly of Ho, saying the appointment would be very encouraging.
“It would be a strong confidence booster. In the department’s history, the highest rank for women officers stayed at assistant commissioner,” Lo said. “Ho’s promotion shows that we women are not at any disadvantage.”
Ho, who was very decisive at work and well regarded by officers, also had her softer side when caring for her fellows, the senior inspector added, and that such meticulous and sensitive traits would make Ho a better leader.
“Ho has also overcome many hurdles with us. Take the opening of the recent mega infrastructures for example: she faced many unexpected difficulties, such as the unforeseen opening date,” Lo continued.
“But she was still able to make acute decisions and lead the 2,000 officers responsible for the ports. One minor mistake at that time would have been disastrous.”
Women account for 1.5 per cent of the 9,761 uniformed staff in the Fire Services Department – the lowest rate among the five forces. About 17 per cent of the 29,300-strong police force is female.