Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor needs to delegate more to her team and minimise political risks when rolling out policies so that the city can strengthen its ability to keep up with China’s rapid development, according to her top policy adviser.
In an exclusive interview with the Post, Bernard Chan also said his number one task now was to ensure Lam will be Hong Kong’s first post-colonial leader to complete two five-year terms. One term would not be sufficient time for a leader to solve deep-rooted problems and implement important policy improvements, he said.
Chan, an executive councillor from 2004 to 2009 and again since 2012, was head of Lam’s campaign office in the chief executive election last year. He was later appointed by Lam, who originally joined the government in 1980, as convenor of the Executive Council’s non-official members, or policy advisers. Chan is also a deputy to the National People’s Congress.
Speaking on the sidelines of the NPC’s annual session in Beijing, Chan lauded Lam for her knowledge of public administration and swift response when problems emerged.
“Lam is also so familiar with the systems that she took everything upon her shoulders, and it seems there have not been many problems,” Chan said. “The response time for this term of government is only about one or two days.”
Citing the fatal double decker bus crash in Tai Po on February 10, Chan noted that Lam took the lead in handling it and she promised an independent inquiry would be launched to look into road safety issues in Hong Kong on the same night.
The “only big criticism” that her team has faced so far, Chan conceded, was triggered by the appointment of Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah as justice secretary, who was found to have unlawful structures in her private residence when she took office in January.
Chan said with a capable chief executive who trusts her ministers, Beijing’s liaison office did not need to help by lobbying pro-establishment lawmakers to support government policies. The liaison office was known to have done that during the tenure of her unpopular predecessor Leung Chun-ying.
Yet, as the city leader’s chief aide, Chan believed Lam’s capability and responsibilities could also be a double-edged sword.
“The biggest worry for her is that she needs to pay attention to every [policy area], and this is really difficult,” Chan said.
He noted that in the past few months, Lam has been in charge of coordinating policy bureaus, as well as visiting foreign countries and the mainland frequently.
“I hope that she can be the chief executive [in the next nine years] … so she needs to delegate more often … and let her team share the burden.”
Chan’s other piece of advice was to urge Lam’s team to be cautious when rolling out new policies. He said that it had been taking longer for the Legislative Council, of which 24 out of 64 seats are held by the opposition, to approve the government’s proposals in recent years.
“China’s [developments] have been affecting the world, and basically, it would not wait for you … So the only solution is to minimise the probability of making mistakes when rolling out new policies, so that fewer people would come up with excuses to delay them,” he suggested.
Lam’s predecessor Leung was the Exco’s convenor before taking over as the city’s leader. But Chan insisted he would not be taking over, should Lam decide not to seek re-election in 2022.
“My only objective now is to make sure the chief executive would go for another term … If we are very efficient, a lot of things can be done in the next four years, but now you might only get a few big policies implemented in a year,” he lamented.
Chan also commented on recent criticisms by lawmakers against Hong Kong’s financial secretary Paul Chan Mo-po for refusing to give out cash handouts when sharing the government’s record-breaking HK138 billion surplus.
Commentators said the lawmakers were taking him on to bolster their candidates’ standing in the Legislative Council by-election on March 11.
Bernard Chan believed the bumper surplus had sparked off the demands but he argued it would be unfair to taxpayers and the needy to share the surplus by giving out cash to all residents.