Attentive ear, caring heart

Updated: 2017-03-13 07:32

(HK Edition)

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Editor's note: Her leadership style prioritizes listening, paying attention to many views and including all sectors of society in decision-making, Chief Executive candidate Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in an exclusive interview with China Daily on Friday, March 10.

Q: You've played many roles - mother, public servant and chief secretary for administration. You've also been described as one having a clear head and warm heart. A recent signed article by Judith Mackay published in China Daily described you as well-known for your "compassion, kindness and sense of fun". We don't see that very much in public. We are wondering where the softer side is.

A: The softer side is kept for myself and my family. I rarely used my public opportunities to build up my personal profile. I spent every day in my official position trying to do things for the people of Hong Kong. I perhaps have sacrificed a bit in my private life because of my public duties.

For example, I did not manage to spend enough time with my mother before she passed away. Every time I spent a good period of time with her, it was when she was sick and hospitalized, then I had the obligation to visit her every day after work.

That's why I appeal to people who are fortunate enough to still have aged parents, to spend more time with their parents. The same with my kids. Although I was already a professional woman, I spent a lot of time with my children when they were young.

I disciplined myself by not employing a full-time domestic helper. So in those days, I really needed to rush back home from the office in order to cook for them, to bathe them and to read books to them. But still, if you ask me, I would love to spend more time with my children.

Q: In your public policy initiative, you give priority to youth development. The youth has a crucial role for the future of Hong Kong. In your manifesto, you've set out a plan of education reform, in which you call for a stable, caring and inspiring environment. I have a two-pronged question - how do you envisage that environment, and how do you see it as engaging the young people?

A: Education is very, very important. The best investment that any government could do is to nurture the younger generation, because the younger generation is our future. We really want to help our young people to grow up as responsible citizens, who could not only build up their own career, but also could contribute back to society.

But ironically in my 36 years of public service, working in 20 different positions, I have never worked in education. To me, my involvement in education was when I was the chief secretary for administration. I oversaw a wide-range of policy areas, and education was one of them.

This time around, I have really benefited from my seven weeks of running this campaign, and have many opportunities to talk to people in the education sector, especially frontline teachers. I was very touched by their passion for quality education, and their devotion and commitment.

But at the same time, I heard a lot of teachers' worries about not being given a permanent job. They work on a contract basis, sometimes even on what they told me was an 11-month contract, because there is summer holiday in school. So they won't even be employed on a 12-month basis.

So that's why on Feb 3, when I did not have my full manifesto ready, I already identified education as one of the three priorities for the next-term Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government.

And I crafted a set of words to describe my aspiration for education. I want to create for our students, teachers, principals and parents, a stable and caring environment which is both inspirational and very helpful to all these education stakeholders.

Of course, education is about people helping or nurturing people. But it does require some resources to address some of the imminent issues like the employment issue, hardware and software issue in schools, student-teacher ratio and things like that.

So on Feb 13, I announced that I felt very justified to inject more education resources into the system. I announced it as a first bite if I were elected the next Chief Executive. I would put in an extra HK$5 billion annual recurrent expenditure to help resolve some of the problems in the education sector.

Q: You are viewed as the most experienced of the three candidates, and most trusted by the central government. That presents both advantages and challenges. How do you handle the ties with the central government and dealing with political opposition locally?

A: Well, first of all, I feel very honored if the Central People's Government has trust and faith in me, but I just want to make it very clear that that sort of trust in a Chief Executive candidate or in a public official in the Hong Kong SAR Government is built on very solid foundation.

It's not because they particularly favor me or because I am a woman that they felt they wanted to trust me or they wanted to have me as the next Chief Executive. But anyone who looks at my working history, especially my position as chief secretary for administration, which is the No 2 in the Hong Kong SAR Government, would realize that I have very solid experience working with the Central People's Government and also with the provincial governments.

For 20 months in the current-term SAR government, I led a task force to work on the constitutional development. In those discussions, I worked with the Central People's Government and other relevant authorities. In those interactions, they would know what sort of person I am, and the core values I have and how I have fully reflected the view of Hong Kong people.

At the provincial level, within the Hong Kong SAR Government, I was the chief secretary, chairman of a steering committee to oversee the cooperation between Hong Kong and various parts of the Central People's Government, as well as the provincial authorities.

For example, together with the mayor of Shenzhen, we co-chaired cooperation meetings. Together with the vice-governor of Fujian, we co-chaired another cooperation platform between Hong Kong and Fujian.

And for the eight years in the Hong Kong SAR Government's reconstruction projects in various part of Sichuan after the 2008 major earthquake in Wenchuan, I was the person in charge both when I was the secretary for development and when I was the chief secretary for administration, working with the Sichuan government.

So it was not just a very subjective preference for a person. That sort of trust and faith is, in my view, built on very solid foundation.

Q: How are you preparing your campaign?

A: I have gone to each and every Election Committee (EC) sub-sector, even when that sub-sector is pre-dominated, or wholly owned, by the "pan-democratic" EC members. And in those conversations, I got the feeling that they are receptive to what I have shared with them in terms of my philosophy, in terms of what I said I would do in my manifesto.

The majority of the 300-plus "pan-democratic" members, I believe, won their seats in the Election Committee based on the political platform. But when I went to have a two-hour discussion with them, not every sub-sector talked about political issues. They talked about issues of concern to the sector. They talked about education, health, medical issues, social welfare and so on. And that's why I could compile this manifesto responding to those issues.

For example,"pan-democratic" members from the allied health services sub-sector reflected their concerns to me. One concern is some of the allied health professionals like clinical psychologists, speech therapists and dietitians still do not have a statutory registration system in Hong Kong.

If a profession doesn't have a statutory registration system, it is very difficult to raise your professional standards, because you would not be able to differentiate who is the genuine clinical psychologist that is well-trained and accredited, and who is not. I heard that concern. So in my manifesto, I said that if I were elected the next Chief Executive, I would bring in statutory registration systems for those allied health professionals. There are quite a number of such examples in my manifesto.

Q: Talking about the campaign, do you think you are fairly treated? Once you announced your candidacy, you were described as Leung Chun-ying 2.0 version.

A: This is a place where there is freedom of expression. We have a free press. Once you are committed to an election in a free society, you have to be prepared for that sort of treatment.

But I am very touched by some of the EC members who were very ready to give me their support or even their nomination forms before I disclosed my full manifesto, on the basis of my solid work for many, many years.

They said that: "I know you Carrie. You are not a foreign figure to us. I worked with you in this particular area, in that particular position. So I have every trust and faith in you that you will put in your best as the next Chief Executive." So this is something that really touched me.

What I hope is after the election, people will come around to realize that we still need to work together. The executive branch and the legislature have to work together to make things done for the people of Hong Kong. And I have a track record of engaging with politicians, and Legislative Council members from all political platforms.

And I am willing to solve problems. And it is not just a matter of ability to solve the problems, but also willingness to listen. I have advocated that I want to see the government operating in a more transparent, inclusive and interactive way.

If elected, I will look forward to having more opportunities to directly communicate with the people of Hong Kong, to continue my habit of reading each and every one of the letters sent to the Chief Executive, and trying to address their concerns and issues. I will continue to go to the districts, and to schools to meet with young students, too.

Q: If you win the election and become the CE, what would you do to improve the executive-legislature relationship, especially in terms of handling filibusters?

A: I promised in my manifesto a new style of governance. Because I think while policies are very important, the way you govern, the way you work with people, the way you make appointments to government boards or committees are also important.

So in my new-style governance, I promise to be more inclusive. So as long as people share my philosophy and passion to serve Hong Kong, there is no reason not to appoint individuals from different political affiliations to serve on government boards or committees.

Specifically on the relationship with the legislature, I promised that I would create a platform or dialog for the Chief Executive to meet with and exchange views with members of the Legislative Council coming from different political parties. So as long as we could sit down and talk, then I think we should be able to address at least some of the problems.

Q: If you are elected and become CE, would you consider appointing some people from the opposite camp to become government officials, members of the Executive Council or other advisory committees?

A: Well, under the basic law for principal officials, they are nominated by the Chief Executive and appointed by the Central People's Government. And that appointment, like the appointment of the Chief Executive, is substantive.

Whether an individual candidate is acceptable to the Central People's Government is one of the factors. And if there is a very good candidate coming from a political party which is not so much in the pro-establishment camp, and I do feel that it would be of great benefit to the team, and to society at large to have that individual in my team, I will fight very hard for his or her appointment.

It's all about the individual's merits. But of course, becoming a member of the political team, whether it's in the principal officials or in the Executive Council, one has to observe certain rules. For example, in terms of Executive Council, there're at least two rules - confidentiality and collective responsibility.

Q: You mentioned in your manifesto that you will form a task force to identify more land via civic engagement. Can you tell us more about that?

A: The task of this task group is to build consensus in society. Of course, it would not be complete consensus, but at least a broad-based consensus that will enable the government to press ahead with whichever sources of land that the society prefers.

Because the experience in the past is whenever the government puts up one proposal - for example, reclamation, people who dislike reclamation will resist. Then we move on to another possibility that is country parks. Then the people who love country parks will say "no".

And then we move on to brownfield sites. Those who are working on the brownfield sites, for example those running open storage there, will complain, because it will cause loss of jobs. So at the end of the day, it's standing still. Nothing's being done.

So my strategy is to lay out all the options, with full information and pros and cons. And let this task force lead a major, civic engagement so that the society as a whole will come to a view, instead of "I don't like this. You do another thing".

I say: "All these things are there. Please make up your mind on what to do about it."

But at the same time, this task-force also needs to present to society the very dire living conditions of some of our people in subdivided flats, waiting for public housing and a modest environment. So we will have to ask ourselves: "Do we or do we not want to improve the living environment of these grassroots people?"

So what is more important is: "Is it helping these people, or protecting the environment? Can we do some trade-offs? Can we strike a better balance, so that the society as a whole can move on?"

The last thing I would like to see is Hong Kong standing still. This is not just in the area of land and housing. It's also in our economy. In this campaign, having met all the economic sectors, whether it's banking, insurance, security industries and so on, everyone told me: "Please do something", because Hong Kong is lagging behind.

Our competitiveness is being eroded because of very fierce competition from mainland cities, Singapore, and other places. They say: "Please do something and lead us to revive Hong Kong's economy, so that we can create better jobs for the younger generations."

Q: On Sunday (March 12), you will have the first debate with the other two candidates. Are you looking forward to debating with the two gentlemen?

A: Actually, it's for the people of Hong Kong to be able to see at the same time, and to understand, on one occasion, the different manifestos that we have, and for some of those in attendance to ask questions.

I've been looking forward to it. I will do this in a very conscientious and responsible way to explain my philosophy and my policies. But to me, this sort of public exposition of one's view is very common. Many of you will remember my performance in the Legislative Council every Wednesday. I took part in a lot of motion debates, answered questions from members of the Legislative Council. And I normally did so without a script.

Attentive ear, caring heart

Attentive ear, caring heart

(HK Edition 03/13/2017 page8)