Ex-chief secretary Akers-Jones urges Carrie Lam to get tough on land use

David Akers-Jones says incoming chief executive must have a ‘strong hand’ when she takes office

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 May, 2017, 6:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2017, 10:41am

Former chief secretary David Akers-Jones has urged Hong Kong’s next leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to tackle the city’s problems with firmness and honesty, saying issues such as the land shortage were a “shame and disgrace”.

The 90-year-old ex-official, who supported former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee in the city’s leadership race in March, also described Lam as “a determined person who has a gentle side to her nature”.

On his meeting with Lam on March 20, days before the election, Akers-Jones said it was “just for a brief moment”. “I haven’t seen her ... haven’t spoken one word to her since then,” he said.

Akers-Jones joined the government in 1957, and rose through the ranks to became chief secretary and acting governor before retiring in 1987. Lam joined the government in 1980, and was promoted to development secretary and chief secretary in 2007 and 2012 respectively.

Lam will be Hong Kong’s fourth chief executive since the 1997 handover, and the second to have risen from the civil service.

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Yet, Akers-Jones declined to say whether the civil service would produce better leaders than businessmen turned politicians like the outgoing leader Leung Chun-ying, whom he previously supported.

Instead, the former official conceded that Hong Kong’s colonial past was partly to blame for a lack of “clear assumption of responsibility”, as the colonial civil service took a “positive non-intervention” approach, and left the task of finding solutions to social problems with the private sector.

He noted that it was not until the recent administrations that adopted relatively interventionist approaches, in a reference to Leung’s “appropriately proactive”policies such as increasing welfare spending.

Akers-Jones hoped Lam would be “firm and fair”, especially when dealing with the large corporations which play an “essential” role in Hong Kong’s economy and well-being.

“I feel Carrie Lam would have to deal with ... social problems with a strong hand,” he suggested.

Akers-Jones said land supply was an area which needed urgent solutions, as it was a “shame” that much of Hong Kong’s 1,192 hectares of brownfield sites are now owned by major developers.

“Management of land is a disgrace of the government. When I went to Yuen Long in 1962, it was surrounded by paddy fields ... now look at it,” he said, in a reference to the district where brownfield sites are concentrated.

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He was particularly upset about land mismanagement in the New Territories, as he oversaw an ambitious 10-year programme to build public housing in the area the 1970s and 80s.

Referring to land compensations, he said: “We must reach an amicable agreement between ourselves and the owners of the brownfields, [as] we reached an amicable agreement in the 1960s in the building of new towns.”

Akers-Jones said apart from land and housing shortage, poverty and the ageing population are also “extremely difficult problems” to be solved.

He believes that Lam and her team will find a solution “if they look at the problems honestly” and listen to public opinion.

“Hear the people sing ... otherwise we have trouble, like Les Miserables,” he said, in a reference to a song in the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel.