Hong Kong’s next leader Carrie Lam spent HK$2m in wages for election campaign team

PR chief raked in HK$100,000 a month, it cost HK$300,000 to maintain Facebook page, while T-shirts for her big rally came in at HK$555.6 each

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2017, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 5:52pm

Hong Kong’s incoming leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor lavished over HK$2 million on her 80-member campaign team in the run-up to the chief executive election on March 26, although it failed to ensure her a smooth ride.

Sandra Mak Wong Siu-chun, a PR veteran in charge of publicity, charged an average of HK$100,000 a month, while HK$300,000 went on maintenance of Lam’s Facebook page, which was mostly flooded by angry emoticons.

The expenditure came to light on Wednesday when the Registration and Electoral Office released the declarations of expenses submitted by the chief executive candidates for public scrutiny.

Lam, the former chief secretary, won with 777 votes from the 1,194-member Election Committee. Key rival John Tsang Chun-wah, the former finance minister, secured 365 votes but proved more popular with the public.

Lam raised HK$18.7 million and spent HK$12.6 million, including over HK$831,980 on social media, online publicity and video production.

That included a lump sum payment of HK$300,000 to Daniel Tam Art Gallery – a photographer who specialises in family, wedding and pregnancy photography – for the maintenance of her Facebook page and provision of photo and video services.

Of the money spent on paying her campaign team, HK$325,000 went to 11 student interns, hired at a cost of HK$100 per hour.

These included Li Chun-lam, once a member of the radical group Scholarism, the now-disbanded student-led organisation, who earned HK$28,000, localist Chow Ting-pong and former Occupy movement supporter Yim Chak-hong, who received HK$19,000 and HK$11,000 respectively.

Lam experienced some hiccups along the way, such as the waste of HK$33,000 on T-shirts printed with the wrong design, which could not be used when she held her election rally at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

She then spent HK$15,000 to print 27 T-shirts for the rally – a cost of HK$555.6 each, which was way above market price.

Then a day ahead of the vote she spent HK$230,000 to seek legal advice on a “judicial review application”, although no further details were provided on what this was about.

New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a contender who failed to make it to the voting stage due to a shortage of nominations, said Lam had been overcharged by her public relations team, who had no relevant experience.

“These people were trying to milk Mrs Lam as they knew she had raised a huge amount of funds,” Ip told the Post on Wednesday. “But they should not treat Mrs Lam as a cash cow.”

She also said Mak, a seasoned PR in the business field, did not deserve such high pay because she was also a newcomer at electioneering.

“People should not try to make money [in election campaigning] as they should see it as a matter of public affairs,” she said, describing it as an unhealthy practice as it might deter less resourceful aspirants from running in future.

Ip spent HK$740,000 on hiring agents and an assistant and offered PR chief Mark Pinkstone around HK$40,000 a month.

Over 40 per cent of the HK$5.86 million Ip spent went on adverts, including putting up huge billboards near the exits of several tunnels, which cost over HK$1.4 million.

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She also spent HK$250,000 commissioning a pro-Beijing group, the Hong Kong Research Association, to conduct a survey, and HK$18,000 on make-up.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who received 21 votes in the election,spent over HK$1 million to hire a PR chief and election consultancy.

Lam was criticised for several gaffes during her campaign, including one instance where her team said she was “too tired” to visit grass-roots groups in Tin Shui Wai, in the far west of the city.

Political scientist Dr Chung Kim-wah said it was normal for Lam to spend heavily on publicity as she hoped to narrow the popularity gap with Tsang, but the results indicated the effort had not paid off.