HK leader Carrie Lam shrugs off calls to quit but pledges to shed elitist mindset

31-Jan-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor shrugged off calls on Wednesday for her resignation, but promised to reflect on intense criticism over her government’s handling of controversial welfare policy issues and learn lessons about humility and shedding an elitist mindset.

Hong Kong’s leader appeared more contrite as lawmakers took her to task in the Legislative Council over the poor management of a HK$4,000 (US$510) cash handout scheme and the raising of the age threshold for elderly welfare recipients.

It came a day after the latest poll by a local university showed Lam’s approval rating at its lowest since she took office in July 2017. Pro-democracy lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen was quick to cite the figure as a reason she should step down.

“You promised before taking office that if the majority of people turned against you, you would resign, so when are you going to fulfil your promise?” Chan said.

Lam did not answer that question directly but reiterated that officials needed to improve and govern with humility and empathy.

“I am ultimately accountable,” she said.

Lam added that global economic headwinds and technological change had presented unique challenges for leaders across the world. She said her and other officials attending a World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last week had been reminded as such by an unnamed foreign leader.

“One head of an international organisation who was there reminded the leaders that nowadays, in the face of economic globalisation and challenges brought about by technology… there are two things to remember: first, to be humble, and second, to shed the mindset of elitism,” Lam said. “I will keep these two reminders closely in mind.”

Pan-democrat lawmakers urged Lam to make a last-minute U-turn on the starting age for elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), which has been raised from 60 to 65.

The change will take effect in two days and will mean a single able-bodied adult aged between 60 and 64 who newly applies for CSSA will receive only HK$2,525 a month HK$1,060 less than before.

Lam has since announced a new Employment Support Supplement for those in that age bracket, which will cover the difference, but it has not put an end to criticism from lawmakers.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said: “What more do we have to do to make you really listen to our opinions?”

Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu added: “If you’re not withdrawing it, you will go down in history as a bully of the elderly.”

And social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said it was not enough for officials to acknowledge their mistakes they must act to correct them.

“Has the government called off the new threshold for elderly CSSA or done better on handling the cash handout, or is this mere lip service?” Shiu said.

Lam has defended the age change, saying it removed a barrier to the job market for many elderly residents and had been recommended in a population policy study by the past administration.

As chief secretary under former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying she chaired a steering committee on the study.

On Wednesday she said the government was willing to introduce more allowances and subsidies for elderly CSSA applicants.

Lam’s popularity ratings have dropped to record lows, according to the latest edition released on Tuesday of a survey by the University of Hong Kong.

On a scale of 1 to 100, the chief executive’s score dropped 5.4 points to 45.5. The university interviewed about 1,000 residents last week. The figure broke a previous all-time low of 47.6 set in October last year.

Only 32 per cent of those polled said they would support Lam staying on as chief executive, while 52 per cent said they would not. The numbers translated to a net approval rating of minus 20 percentage points, which was nine percentage points lower than two weeks ago and the lowest since Lam took office in July 2017.

Welfare minister Dr Law Chi-kwong told lawmakers the government’s Social Welfare Department did not keep track of how many people aged 60 to 64 were receiving CSSA.

“This is because CSSA is handed out on a family basis,” Law said.

The new policy was designed to take into account the fact many residents were retiring later in life, and was not to force people to work, he added.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said Lam could no longer think like a civil servant and simply dismiss the legitimate concerns of the public as populism.

“Even though civil servants may think they have chosen a more direct solution, if the public think otherwise, you have to follow their advice,” Tse said.

“She can’t just take the public’s calls as populist… She has to patiently and carefully listen before determining if these demands are ‘good or bad populism’.”


Category: Hong Kong

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