Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor speaks during an interview with media in Hong Kong on June 12, 2022. (ZOU HONG / CHINA DAILY)
In the second part of our two part special on the out-going HKSAR Chief Executive, Carrie Lam says she always wanted to share her experience with younger civil servants in the form of a Civil Service College.
Also, Mrs. Lam says she will enjoy more time spent with family, including a plan to travel, initially to the Chinese mainland.
Check out the full transcript of TVB’s Straight Talk host Dr. Eugene Chan’s interview with Mrs. Carrie Lam.
Chan: Good evening. I'm Eugene Chan with Straight Talk. Mrs. Carrie Lam is with us again tonight. Last week, she told us about the political development and the housing situation of Hong Kong. Welcome Mrs Lam.
Welcome Mrs. Lam again. As you know, Hong Kong has been very competitive as the international financial center, we still maintain number three in the world, and our ranking from the World Competitiveness yearbook has risen from seventh to fifth again, so we're on the right track going up. However, in the last few shows, we have had many guests from the business sectors, they are worried because of the travel restrictions. We are losing all our talents especially to Singapore and other parts of the world. Are you concerned?
Lam: I am concerned, but at least from the feedback that you have received Eugene, now the only problem that our business people see is the COVID restrictions. Very few people talk about the National Security Law, which is a good thing.
That I can assure you, no one said that has any effect at all.
Chan: Yes, I met with foreign chambers and so on. They said “we're not worried about national security law because our own country has a national security law”.
Lam: Exactly. But their own countries are now opening up. So there’s no travel restrictions, no vaccine pass, no mask wearing. But Hong Kong seems to be in a different world.
Lam: So I am worried. That's why as early as 25th of March, when we still have cases, almost 10,000 I already announced a roadmap to open up now. So in terms of importation situations, we have lifted the ban on the nine countries, we have reduced the hotel quarantine period from 14 to seven days, we have streamlined the PCR tests at the airport, and so on and so on, just to make it easier for travel from outside. But of course, since other people are even opening up more, so by comparison, they find Hong Kong very unbearable. So I think sooner or later, sooner better than later, a decision will have to be made whether Hong Kong will align her practices with the outside world or adhere to the current arrangements. But there is a price to pay. If we continue with the current restrictions. I'm sure we will be paying a price.
Chan: Right CE, another matter that we often talk about is the Greater Bay Area, which is right next door to Hong Kong. We've got over 70 million people with a big market for Hong Kong. Do you think Hong Kong people are hungry enough to move into the mainland? Because as I…. we had an interview last year. I told you some of the young doctors are not very keen to move over despite seeing a huge future.
Chan: So has the government done enough to entice people to move into GBA?
Lam: Well, since the promulgation of the GBA outline development plan, we have been doing a lot exactly through interest to young people especially to go into the GBA. But unfortunately, because of COVID restrictions. Many of these schemes have not been implemented as fast as we would like to see, for example, the youth employment scheme in the GBA. As far as professional services, like medical doctors, engineers, and architects and lawyers and accountants, the one single means to attract them to GBA is policies. If we could persuade the central government to give them policies of easy entry of recognition of their professional status of… sort-of freedom in operating their clinics and practices, I'm sure they will go because the market as you said, Eugene, is huge.
Lam: But again, because of our COVID rules, some of the work that we have been undertaking with the central government and with the provincial authorities have been impeded somewhat, but I'm sure the groundwork has already been done. And the central support is there with a leading group on the GBA development, headed by the Vice-Premier. So the prospects remain really very good, but we just need, especially our young people to go into and stay there for a while and actually experience for themselves the life there, as well as the opportunities there.
Chan: Have you ever considered attracting them to come over to Hong Kong because like professional services, I mean, we do have manpower.
Chan: Is it possible to attract more of them to come to Hong Kong and use our services so that the whole economy will benefit, because it's 70 million population?
Lam: Yes, this from north to south has already been happening for many years otherwise Hong Kong will not be doing so well in terms of financial services. Mainland enterprises are coming to list in Hong Kong, to set up offices in Hong Kong. There are now 2000 mainland companies with regional offices or headquarters or local offices in Hong Kong. We have a large number of mainland students in our UGC-funded institutions. We have a quality migrant scheme from the mainland, we have admission of talent from the mainland, all these figures actually are very robust. So people are worried that since 2019, because of the attack and intimidation on mainlanders, mainlanders do not like Hong Kong, that's not true. Judging from the figures that I have seen, they are still coming. But that doesn't mean we need not do more promotion in the mainland, especially with the 25th anniversary, we have asked our five economic and trade officers including the Beijing office to do more publicity and promotion about the Hong Kong situation.
Chan: Also, let's move back to the COVID pandemic. I mean, we have seen a recent increase in numbers. So can we see the sixth wave is coming? If it does, are we more prepared this time?
Lam: My colleagues in the health area will not describe this as a sixth wave, but we have not actually gone out of the fifth wave. The cases have come down significantly, but are still hovering around 200 and 300. Unlike May last year, the fourth wave. The fourth wave ended with no local infections for half a year. So now it's a very different situation because of Omicron. So we are much, much better prepared to deal with and search for cases, in terms of testing capability, in terms of isolation and quarantine facility, in terms of drugs, these are two effective antiviral oral drugs, we have abundant supply.
Lam: In terms of vaccines, we are never short of the two vaccines. So what we need is: one to continue to push up the vaccination rates, especially amongst the elderly and the young. Secondly, it’s to still observe the social distancing. That's why I'm sorry, you've invited me to dinner I could not accept yet. Hopefully later in the year, we could have dinner together with your outstanding young persons.
Chan: CE, another method that was often brought up in the last few shows where your provision of consumption vouchers, and the Employment Support Scheme that has been very helpful. But having said that, all the businesses are still suffering. I know you don't have a crystal ball. But where do you see this going? And when do you see some light at the end of the tunnel?
Lam: Well, much depends on the lifting of the restrictions. Actually, Hong Kong bounces back quite fast. Last year was real GDP growth year on year of 6.1 percent. The unemployment figures for the period, March to May, as a result of the relaxation of the social distancing measures has already dropped from 5.5 percent to 5.1 percent. So these measures, the degree of the bouncing back is very good. So once the COVID restrictions have been lifted, we'll start to see tourists coming to Hong Kong. I think we'll be doing well, but Hong Kong is actually short of labor, we have been suffering from an acute shortage of labor for some time. But the fifth wave has really hit us hard. So thank you for mentioning the two initiatives of the consumption voucher and the Employment Support Scheme. Throughout the COVID period, we have rolled out quite a number of these effective measures in order to protect the jobs, because once the business was closed and people laid off, it becomes very, very difficult and painful for the people.
Chan: Okay, let's take a break. Don't go away.
Chan: Welcome back. We have been talking with Chief Executive Carrie Lam about attracting talent and COVID difficulties. Mrs. Lam, one area that we must touch on is the geopolitical tension between motherland and the rest of the western countries, especially the US. It’s been very tough for Hong Kong, some of our officials, including your good self, have been sanctioned. But Hong Kong, as an international financial centre, we must continue to keep a relationship with the external partners. So do you see we have a role to play despite all this tension to maintain at least some dialogue amongst the business communities between different countries?
Lam: Well, certainly Hong Kong has to maintain her international status and connectivity. Not only for the sake of the Hong Kong economy and the Hong Kong people, but also for our country. Throughout history, Hong Kong has been performing that role with our country, was under sort of more closed environment or the reform and opening up, and now advancing to become a middle-income economy in time to come. So I'm sure Hong Kong will continue to contribute. But in order to contribute, I've said this on several occasions: we must remember that Hong Kong’s success lies in her fundamentals, which are all enshrined in the Basic Law, and that is the rule of law, the independence in judiciary, the free flow of capital, no controls over foreign exchange, and the robust monetary policy, and so on and so on. So we must try to strengthen each and every of these aspects. But at the same time, the government has to be more proactive in creating new markets for the Hong Kong economy. We have to be more proactive in leveraging our strengths as an international financial centre to support the national development strategy. One is the internationalization of the RMB; second is the pursuit of green finance because the country has carbon neutrality objective 2060, we have a carbon neutrality goal of 2050. And also in FinTech. So all these will need overseas talents. So Hong Kong never, never resists talents coming in, right? So I hope that we will be able to attract more talents to come to work in Hong Kong. There is one very encouraging sign – last June, we introduced the Global STEM Professorship Scheme, we are really targeting the very distinguished scientists at the overseas renowned universities, and we are very successful.
Chan: All right.
Lam: I think we have already granted three batches of nominated professors from the several universities, and they are coming. So this is the sort of attraction of Hong Kong, other than high property prices, Hong Kong is a very liveable city.
Chan: We have got some nice country parks as well.
Chan: Mrs Lam, another area we must touch on is with the civil service.
Chan: You've been here serving Hong Kong for the last 42 years, and we are very happy to hear that you will want to contribute to the new Civil Service College because like a few weeks ago, we had KK Ling and Eric Ma coming, and they both said that the blame culture of Hong Kong people has made a lot of civil servants being very protective of themselves. And even recently, there are news reports sort of blaming our administrative offices for not doing their job properly. Although it’s not a fair statement, how would you contribute in this part of experience sharing to the civil servants, so that they will be able to up against the new Hong Kong, so to speak?
Lam: Well, when I took office, I have announced that we need to set up a dedicated Civil Service College. Some people would query civil service is about training, what's the point of having a physical building? But personally I think a physical building is very important because it instills that sense of pride amongst the civil servants. It will help to develop that esprit de crops, that team spirit, that we all go into the Civil Service College to be trained, to exchange ideas. And then we all come out very proud to be a member of Hong Kong civil service. So the training is a very important part. And my advice to my fellow colleagues is at the end of the day, it is the public interest. So we don't have to be too concerned about people’s criticisms or blaming us for this and that. We have to convince ourselves and have the conviction that we are doing the right things and have the passion for Hong Kong, and never give up any opportunity to improve the way that we deliver service for the people of Hong Kong. So I still believe we have a very good civil service. It is just that over the years, somehow they have not been able to perform as brilliantly as they should because of the undue politicization, particularly in the Legislative Council, and sometimes a bit unfair commentary by the media.
Chan: From an earlier news report, we heard that you are not interested in or you thought you don't have the ability to set a new think tank in Hong Kong. You mentioned that setting up a think tank might interfere with the work of the successor. Then what is your experience with other think tanks in Hong Kong? Have you found them useful throughout your 42 years of service to Hong Kong?
Lam: Well, I do receive a lot of reports from these think tanks, and I do read the reports. They do contain useful ideas, but at the end of day, it’s a matter of execution. That's why I have always, in private meetings with these think tank leaders, have said “yes, you have good ideas, better come in…
Chan: Come in to the government.
Lam: …and deliver your brilliant ideas, it’s so easy to talk”, is that right?
Lam: But at the end of the day, executing is the litmus test of whether that idea works in a place like Hong Kong. But as far as myself is concerned, it's just a personal character, because I know the government so well, and I have deep involvement in a lot of the policies and projects. So for a retired Chief Executive to say something about these projects and policies, now under the leadership of a new government, would cause a bit confusion or unnecessary speculations, and so on. I am not sort of demeaning the value of think tanks, I am just talking about myself.
Chan: Right, yes. Mrs. Lam, many people see you as a very tough lady, more like an iron lady. And you know, just before we come in to do the show, many people said to me the Mrs. Lam that we see is a very different Mrs. Lam, she is very approachable, very relaxed. But having said that, leaving a job and a position that one has passion in has never been easy. In April, you indicated that family was the most important factor that draw you to end of your tenure.
Chan: You're still very young and energetic, and obviously knowledgeable. What are your key priorities after July 1st?
Lam: I'm not very young and energetic. I'm very exhausted after having worked all these years. So I'm looking for rest, spending time with my family, and travelling.
Lam: Because I did travel very extensively, but every time it is for official functions. So I do not get to see the place and interact with the people. So I will start to travel, perhaps starting with the mainland, after a certain quarantine. But I do look forward to travelling because over the years, I have made friends with people in other places, particularly in Singapore. So it's a personal wish to be able to visit these friends and to share with them what I have gone through, in a very challenging 5 years.
Chan: Yes. You also mentioned the sanctions have drawn you closer to Mr. Lam and your two sons. How are you going to spend more time with them? Obviously you will, but they have jobs and they have studies, and how are you allocate time with them?
Lam: I always believe that you don't really need to always see each other, in order to maintain that intimacy. And after all, grown-up sons are… they have their own life. But at least if I have more time, I can have video calls with them, I can check out whether they are fine, and so on. So some private time becomes very essential for me.
Chan: Right. Do you think it’s unfair or… I mean for your family to sort of pay some sort of sacrifice for you being in this job? And how would you advise people who are interested in public service in the future?
Lam: It's difficult to say whether it’s fair or unfair because once somebody like myself has made up my mind, with the support of a family, then you have to go all the way. You cannot look back and say have I not done this job it would be much better. And so family support remains very important. So I would advise people who want to join the government and to take up important positions, that they better have a clear understanding of their family, and try to secure their understanding and preferably support before they take on the job.
Chan: All right. Mrs. Lam, you have one minute and I want to ask you how would you want people of Hong Kong to remember Carrie Lam?
Lam: Somebody who has spent her lifelong career to serve the people of Hong Kong and to build Hong Kong into a much, much better place.
Chan: Thank you, Mrs. Lam, and we wish you a very happy travelling, at least in July and August.
Lam: Thank you very much.
Chan: Thank you. Thank you, CE. Over these 2 weeks, Mrs. Lam has given us insights on everything about her job, as the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, including the political development, housing, COVID difficulties, the future of our city, and her personal life as well. Again, on behalf of our viewers, we wish her all the best with her family and enjoy her post-retirement travels. Have a good week and good night.