The tough side of nanny carrie

Top News | Chan Ho-him 13 Jan 2017

As Hong Kong's No 2 official in the past four years, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has shown a hard-line and confrontational face, with a reputation as a tough official.

Lam, 59, has been dragged into the political mud of the 79-day Occupy movement and the failed political reform process in 2014-15, lead-tainted water scandal in 2015, and most recently the West Kowloon cultural hub saga in four years as chief secretary.

Born into a grassroots family, Lam entered the government in 1980 as an administrative officer on graduating from the University of Hong Kong and climbing up the ladder before being director of social welfare in 2000 and secretary for development in 2007.

Described as both Hong Kong's "Iron Lady" and a "nanny" to the administration's secretaries and top officials, her ability to lead and defend the administration over crises and "cleaning up the mess" was seen often in her 36 years in government.

On the HK$3.5 billion Palace Museum project in West Kowloon, she at first defended the absence of public consultation by saying it would be "embarrassing" if the public opposed the plan.

When defending civil servants over the lead-in-water crisis in public housing estates, she said: "Boldness comes when government officials desire nothing."

She led the failed political reform consultation, juggling between the 100,000 demonstrators during the 2014 Occupy movement while persuading lawmakers to "seize the opportunity" for universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017.

She sat down with five Occupy student leaders, including Alex Chow Yong-kit and Nathan Law Kwun- chung, in October 2014 though it failed to resolve the differences.

Lam, who often wore her grassroots badge, came under fire last year as Commission on Poverty chairwoman when she defended a "means-tested pension plan." She introduced the first poverty line and old-age living allowance in 2013, and the low-income working family allowance in 2016.

She established the lump-sum grant policy in 2001 for non-government organizations when she was director of social welfare, calling that post the one she had enjoyed most.

As development secretary, Lam showed her toughness at demonstrators protesting against the demolition of Queen's Pier in 2007 while taking a hands-off approach over illegal construction and transferral of rights of small houses in the New Territories.

A devout Catholic, Lam told cardinals and visitors at a bazaar in 2015: "There is a place reserved for me in heaven."

She went on: "Working in the SAR government, when one insists on doing the work of righteousness, one would often be given a hard time."

At HKU, she joined social movements and took part in a sit-in outside the government headquarters. She also organized exchange trips to the mainland, where she met democrats Lee Wing-tat and Sin Chung-kai.

Lam married mathematics scholar Lam Siu-por in 1984. They have two sons. She is known for placing family first. Since 2012, she has expressed multiple times she would soon retire to spend more time with her family.

She and her husband - who mainly lived in Britain during most of her tenure as chief secretary - recently sold their two flats in Britain. Now she owns one in Zhongshan.

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