Carrie Lam’s PR chief pays price for Hong Kong leader’s plummeting reputation amid anti-government protests
- Cathy Chu to be reassigned as one government source says she has been made a scapegoat for Lam’s extradition bill failings
- Replacement at Information Services Department to be announced in next couple of weeks
The Hong Kong government’s public relations chief has paid the price for city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s plummeting reputation and is to be reassigned, the Post has learned.
Cathy Chu Man-ling’s removal comes amid the most serious political crisis for the city and its chief executive, triggered by anti-government protests which are now in their third month.
A replacement for the director of the Information Services Department is expected to be announced in the next couple of weeks, two government insiders said.
Chu, who one insider described as a scapegoat for the failed attempt to push through the controversial extradition bill, is likely to be reassigned to head either the Leisure and Culture Services Department, or Hongkong Post.
Rex Chang Wai-yuen, the deputy secretary for education, is tipped to succeed Chu.
Chang previously worked as the deputy secretary of the Development Bureau under Lam in 2012. He has been in his present position for less than a year.
Neither Chu nor Chang responded to requests for comment, while the Civil Service Bureau said it would not comment “on speculative reporting”.
Chu took charge of the government’s news and publicity branch in February last year, and her brief stint as Lam’s adviser is shorter than most of her predecessors.
Lam’s administration has come under fire from allies and opposition sources alike for her handling of legislation that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives from the city to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacked an extradition agreement, including mainland China.
“The greatest joke is that although the government keeps issuing press releases in the name of the ‘government spokesman’, there is actually no such person,” Ip wrote at the time.
Rumours regarding Chu’s removal have been swirling for the past two months, and sources said the decision was linked to attempts to defend the now-abandoned bill.
But Chu also had a limited role in influencing Lam’s overall strategy, two insiders involved in government communication strategy said.
That was partly because Lam had been personally involved in major government decisions, and even more so than her predecessor Leung Chun-ying. Lam had also not been able to fill the position of information coordinator, which has been vacant for more than two years.
“Given the chief executive’s involvement, the Information Services Department has only become more in charge of the execution instead of formulating any strategy,” one government insider said, while another added that there was not a “PR problem” but a political one.
Lam’s cabinet also includes four of Chu’s predecessors. Commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah, constitutional and mainland affairs minister Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, development minister Michael Wong Wai-lun, and Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, the head of Policy Innovation and Coordination Office, who reports directly to Lam.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung