Lam's Midas touch in filibuster cut

Editorial | 4 Jul 2017

So far, so good. Although Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was sworn in as chief executive only three days ago, there have already been a few eye-catching moments for her new administration.

First is her pledge to relaunch talks on the "offsetting mechanism" for mandatory provident funds that permits employers to cover severance and long- service payments by using employees' contributions to their MPF accounts.

Instead of inheriting the hot potato from her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, Lam is casting it aside swiftly.

It was puzzling in the first place why CY found it appropriate to go it alone, when most of his senior advisers in the Executive Council failed to agree on the plan to phase out "offsetting," as announced by the previous regime in the last few days of its term.

To an extent, Lam is trying to show she isn't the "CY2.0" that she had notoriously been labelled during the campaign. The re-launch of MPF talks and the possibility of lowering the fence at government headquarters are just handy choices as she seeks to distance herself from Leung.

Her more serious challenge is in the executive-legislative relationship that currently can be summed up in one word - "filibusters."

Can she put an end to it?

Tomorrow in the Legislative Council, she'll announce details of the HK$5 billion additional recurrent spending for education, including extra teachers for schools, and subsidies for young people attending self-financed degree courses, among others.

These programs are apolitical, and it should be fairly easy for Lam to secure support from the legislature.

It's always wise to start with the easiest to build trust on. Without trust, it would be difficult to forge ahead with the controversial issues, such as the bill on co-location immigration clearance for the Express Rail Link that is expected to be operational next year.

Meanwhile, I'm cynical about how opposition lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen has changed his political tune to speak like a staunch government supporter when he defended the HK$5 billion package. I wonder if he would have sought to filibuster to delay the funding if it had been something else, or came under a different chief executive.

As Ip urged his colleagues to fast- track the funding, so that teachers and students can benefit in the new school year starting in September, the Professional Teachers Unions lawmaker may have forgotten the summer recess will begin very soon, and it would be impossible to conclude the funding discussion in time - that is unless lawmakers are willing to keep working under the sweltering heat and humidity of summer.

Surely, if the education spending initiative can lubricate the executive- legislative ties, it would be a very good start for the new administration.

But mind you, there's also the risk of a backlash, if Lam's olive branch can't put an end to, or reduce, filibustering. Then, will we see raised eyebrows in the pro-establishment camp?

It's foreseeable Lam will maneuver between the left and right. While her record in public administration is beyond reproach, her political skills are yet to be fully tested.

Let's keep watching how things unfold.



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