General Manager Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has suddenly stopped fighting, which goes against her reputation as a born fighter.
That means his successor, John Lee Ka-chiu, will have to deal with two hot potatoes immediately — namely, easing pandemic-related controls to get Hong Kong back to normal and adjusting civil service salaries.
Lee will have to decide whether to lift social distancing measures in line with international practice or tighten measures in light of a rebound in the number of new cases.
He will also have to consider whether to give civil servants a pay rise or risk upsetting a company angered by the results of the wage trends survey which indicate that civil servants should receive a pay increase of 2.04 to 7.26%, or to freeze their salary for the third consecutive year.
Both issues could have been handled by Lam as she still has three weeks to work on them.
Maybe, as an old saying goes, you get wiser as you get older. Lam learned to be wiser after being a fight-ready workhorse for most of his life in public service.
On the one hand, she could have gone ahead with phase three of the Covid exit plan which, had she done so, would have given her plenty of encouragement in the community.
But, on the other hand, it would have overlapped July 1 to involve the new administration.
With less than a month in office, it’s clear she’s now in sunset mode.
Lam said the number of new Covid cases had rebounded and blamed it on false rapid test results. Unless clarified with more specific and comprehensive testing, she said it could discourage the nation’s top leader from coming here to officiate at the July 1 ceremony.
A rebound in the number of new cases has always been anticipated and should not be a major concern as long as the number of serious cases remains low.
Apparently, at this point on the anniversary of the handover, political considerations trump everything else to become the top and final priority of the current administration.
It makes sense but it’s disappointing for an audience that was told to expect greater freedom before the end of June.
Then there is the burning issue of public service compensation.
Certainly, the public expects to see a favorable outcome for civil servants after Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip Tak-kuen openly endorsed a pay rise this fiscal year.
The decision to remove the topic from the Executive Council agenda in the middle of the meeting did not resolve the controversy.
However, he gives carte blanche to the new administration to tackle it with a view to reaching a solution that meets the interests of all stakeholders, including private sector employers.
The discussion may take some time as it will be impossible to complete it in one or two Exco meetings.
As she focuses on the July 1 ceremony, Lam leaves two difficult issues for her successor to resolve.
Could this also be an opportunity for Lee to improve his popularity if he can handle them well?