From humble beginnings to highest office in the land

Hong Kong's new chief executive Carrie Lam (centre) reacts moments after announced winner of the Hong Kong chief executive election.
Hong Kong's new chief executive Carrie Lam (centre) reacts moments after announced winner of the Hong Kong chief executive election.PHOTO: AFP

Mrs Carrie Lam grew up in a flat so small she had to do her homework on her bed, like many children in this land-starved city.

Despite that, she was an ace student, and was elected Hong Kong's first female chief executive yesterday.

At her press conference yesterday, Mrs Lam, 59, was anxious to start work. Top on her agenda is Hong Kong's perennial housing problem.

"As we all know, housing is an issue that has been problematic for Hong Kong for some time. I have pledged to help Hong Kong people attain home ownership and to improve living conditions," she said.

"To do this, we need more usable land; the key is to reach a consensus on how to increase supply. I will bring together professionals from planning, engineering, architecture and environmental protection to form the task force which I have mentioned in my manifesto, to get a start on the process of public engagement."

PROBLEMATIC ISSUE

As we all know, housing is an issue that has been problematic for Hong Kong for some time. I have pledged to help Hong Kong people attain home ownership and to improve living conditions. To do this, we need more usable land; the key is to reach a consensus on how to increase supply.

MRS CARRIE LAM

 
 
 

During her election campaign, Mrs Lam pledged to focus on home ownership so that Hong Kongers can call Hong Kong their home.

She recalled living in a tong lau , or subdivided flat, in Wan Chai district, without tap water or a water heater.

"At that time, it took a lot of effort to have a hot bath," Mrs Lam said at her first election rally last month.

She said she could still remember the family's excitement when her parents saved enough to pay for the down payment of a 600 sq ft flat the year she completed her secondary education.

"Although we didn't have much at that time, we were full of hope. We knew that as long as we worked hard, our days would get better," said Mrs Lam.

At 23, she joined the government, straight after graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree in 1980.

A former student activist who wanted to bring about change, Mrs Lam rose up the ranks of the civil service quickly.

In 2007, she was appointed secretary for development by then Chief Executive Donald Tsang.

She performed well during her five years in this role, pressing ahead with initiatives to pursue sustainable development.

In 2012, she was promoted to become the city's chief secretary.

After more than three decades in the civil service, Mrs Lam has earned the nickname of "Nanny" as she has always helped others solve problems.

Barely a month into her job as Development Bureau chief in 2007, she had to talk to demonstrators who had gone on a hunger strike in protest against the demolition of Queen's Pier in Central district.

She walked right into the angry crowd and told the protesters to disperse so that demolition work could begin.

Even though the protesters kept shouting at her, she stood her ground.

The demolition went ahead eventually, and the episode earned her a reputation as a "good fighter".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'From humble beginnings to highest office in the land'. Print Edition | Subscribe