Next CE must inherit the past and usher in the future

Updated: 2017-01-25 10:16

(HK Edition)

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Zhou Bajun favors Carrie Lam as the CE candidate most qualified in policymaking and governance, who can push the current administration's effective policies to a higher level

The State Council officially accepted on Jan 16 the resignation of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as chief secretary for administration and John Tsang Chun-wah as financial secretary. Also that day, Carrie Lam announced her decision to run for the office of Chief Executive. Three days later on Jan 19, John Tsang also declared his bid for the top post of the Hong Kong SAR Government. This is the first time in HKSAR history that the No 2 and No 3 officials of the government have resigned to become CE election candidates.

The two former principal officials will no doubt face a tough question when they begin campaigning in the 2017 CE election: How do they view the outgoing CE and their former boss Leung Chun-ying, especially his governance?

The opposition parties have summed up Leung's governing philosophy and policies as "Leung's line". When Lam attended a radio talk show on Jan 18, she said she does not agree with generalizing someone's governing philosophy as a "line" and would prefer the word "philosophy" instead. She made it clear she would maintain the current SAR government's governing philosophy, which is "Seek Change, Maintain Stability, Serve the People with Pragmatism". When she announced her bid to become CE at a press conference on Jan 16, Lam said the proven effective policies introduced by the current SAR government should be continued, such as on housing, poverty alleviation and elderly care. However, it is one thing to maintain effective policies and another to push them to a higher level. Good governance requires more public participation, a harmonious society and transparent government. If she wins the CE election she will definitely aim for these goals.

Next CE must inherit the past and usher in the future

In short, she presented two connected aspirations: One is "inheriting the past" - carrying forward the current SAR government's governing philosophy and effective policies; and the other is "ushering in the future" - raising the standard of governance and administration and qualifying as "good governance".

From the timing of Lam's resignation as chief secretary and her CE election bid announcement to the way she made it clear right out of the gate that she would bring the best of the past to an even better future, it is not hard to see she is the best placed among the pro-establishment hopefuls so far to win CE election nomination. Many people may remember she had ruled out joining the CE election race before the incumbent Leung announced on Jan 10 he would not seek re-election. She said publicly the day after that she needed to rethink her decision not to run for the CE's office after that "major change". On Jan 12, she handed in her resignation to Leung as well as the central government after she finished helping Leung prepare his final Policy Address. She has proved time and again she is not only responsible for maintaining the normal operations of the SAR government but also gutsy enough to fend off the opposition's attempts to derail the lawful administration of the current SAR government.

John Tsang is not as qualified as Carrie Lam in two main aspects. Lam has been working in the government for 36 years, with experience of policymaking in several areas of administration. She has shown her outstanding capabilities in handling a wide range of civil affairs while serving as chief secretary for administration. Tsang, meanwhile, was a senior official best known for his rich experience in handling economic and financial matters. He has yet to demonstrate administrative skills in other areas of government up to Lam's caliber. The other thing he fell short on is the timing of his resignation, which saw him quit his job on Dec 12 - in the midst of preparing the all-important annual budget report.

There are two more CE election hopefuls - New People's Party Chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing - but they both fall short on administrative experience compared with Carrie Lam. Ip, too, worked in the civil service for many years and was secretary for security and a member of the Executive Council before she resigned in 2003. She was head of the Immigration Department before the handover, the first woman in Hong Kong history to be appointed head of a disciplinary department. But her popularity has never been close to the level of Lam's. Woo, 70, is the oldest of the four and his credentials are limited to judicial affairs.

The 1,194-member Election Committee will select the next CE in March and more than a quarter of them are opposition members. That means pro-establishment Election Committee members must put the public interest first and work in unity to ensure the most qualified person is nominated and eventually wins the CE election.

(HK Edition 01/25/2017 page9)