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Pundits say incoming leader Carrie Lam must deliver results to lure talent to her team, but the city’s governing system means the odds are stacked against her
Not too long ago, Hong Kong’s incoming leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor quipped that she had a nightmare she did “not have enough people to swear in on July 1”. The good news is she has managed to assemble her cabinet, which is likely to get Beijing’s approval as early as Wednesday. The bad news is she has not been able to deliver on a promise for a more diverse slate. “I’ m afraid good governance requires higher standards [than just good policies] – public participation, the rule of law, societal consensus, timely response, accountability … My view today is that the governing team of the next administration should be injected with some new blood, ” she said on January 16 when she confirmed her candidacy for the city’s leadership, hours after her resignation as chief secretary was formally accepted by Beijing. Fast forward five months and Lam, who is less than two weeks away from being sworn in as Hong Kong’s first woman chief executive, is set to unveil a new cabinet with just one new face from outside the bureaucracy – Democratic Party member and social policy professor Dr Law Chi-kwong, 63. Former chief executives and commentators had argued in the past that the administration needed talent from the business or academic worlds to inject new ideas, ways of thinking and skills to make the city’s governance more transparent and publicly accountable – or simply, better. But as elites showed a reluctance to join Lam’s cabinet at a time when the city remains politically divided, academics now believe that the incoming chief will need to do things the other way around. She needs to rely on her “practical” team, as she has described it, to first work on issues such as education and housing, and when it starts producing results, more new blood is likely to be attracted to join them. Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first post-colonial leader, introduced the ministerial system 15 years ago to improve governance and attract talent from outside the government. Hence, the chief executive found political appointees for policy bureau secretaries and ministers rather than recruit from the ranks of politically neutral career civil servants. Tung said his Principal Officials Accountability System would mean all principal officials – mostly secretaries of policy bureaus – would be accountable to him for the decisions they made. This arrangement would ensure their sensitivity to policymaking, as their tenure would depend on their ability rather just having the iron-rice bowl mentality of a civil servant. On June 24,2002, the businessman-turned-politician declared “the dawning of a new era for the governance” of Hong Kong as he unveiled his 14-strong cabinet with five new ministers from outside the bureaucracy. The “outsiders” included Chinese University vice-chancellor Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and industrialist Henry Tang Ying-yen – who became Hong Kong’s No 2 official in 2007 and was defeated by Leung Chun-ying in the chief executive election of 2012. But commentators questioned if the team actually produced results as Tung’s popularity continued to drop until he resigned in 2005. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen then took over as chief executive. When he won the 2007 election, he dispensed with Tung’s rules and formed his cabinet mainly by elevating civil servants – including appointing Lam as development chief. Only two ministers in his 15-member cabinet were from outside the government. That combination of talent did not yield much success for Tsang either. During his term from 2007 to 2012, a growing feeling set in that the accountability system had failed to work, as various political controversies erupted and led to public calls, in vain, for officials to resign.

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