Massive cabinet shakeup brings more concern than surprise

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Despite claims that the cabinet’s changes were made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the move has unsettled opposition members.

Photo: Central Government Offices by Wpcpey. License.

The Hong Kong government announced major changes to its cabinet with the removal and replacement of officials from six different positions.

The four removed officials (and their former positions) are:

  • Mr Joshua Law Chi-kong (Secretary for the Civil Service)
  • Mr Lau Kong-wah (Secretary for Home Affairs)
  • Mr James Henry Lau Jr (Secretary for Financial Services and Treasury)
  • Mr Nicholas Yang (Secretary for Innovation and Technology)

Chief Executive Carrie Lam lauded these officials, giving them “sincere thanks” for their “integrity and dedication over the years”.

The newly appointed and re-appointed officials (and their given positions) are:

  • Mr Patrick Nip Tak-kuen (Secretary for the Civil Service)
  • Mr Eric Tsang Kwok-wai (Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs)
  • Mr Caspar Tsui Ying-wai (Secretary for Home Affairs)
  • Mr Christopher Hui Ching-yu (Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury)
  • Mr Alfred Sit Wing-hang (Secretary for Innovation and Technology)

The Chief Executive is confident that these chosen officials will “rise to the challenges” as the leaders in their given positions. 

“It is not a surprise that there is a significant cabinet reshuffle after an extended period of social unrest and the District Council electoral disaster for government aligned political parties, with the LegCo election scheduled for later this year,” said Mr Ross Feingold, Asia political analyst.  

He also suggested that the timing of this change, occurring long after the climactic events of last year indicates “leadership struggles to execute important decisions”.

Mr Raymond Chan, bills committee member and People Power party chairman, also agrees that this shakeup came “as no surprise”:

“What’s remarkable, however, is that those with the lowest poll numbers, such as John Lee and Teresa Cheng, were spared and those who are not at the eye of the storm were removed,” he stated. 

“It is clear that Beijing appoints only trusted people [who] have a long history of affiliation with Beijing’s apparatus. Political allegiance, rather than competence or popularity, remains the top criterion for appointing senior officials.”

The SAR government denied that the switch-up was due to the anti-extradition protests, citing that changes were made to better cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Regardless of the reason behind the cabinet revamp, Mr Feingold argues that the Chief Executive and her new team face a number of challenges: addressing popular discontent towards the central and SAR governments, invigorating economic growth, and restoring Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe place to engage with for business or pleasure.

“The new and incumbent secretaries will need to design and implement policies that span departments,” he said. 

Along with the skills and experience they bring to their positions, Mr Feingold emphasises the importance of interacting well with the public, media, and opposition politicians, while successfully working with their cabinet colleagues.

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