Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she is “not ashamed” of the record she leaves behind as her five-year term in office, marked by months of major street protests and subsequent crackdowns, draws to a close.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam attending a Legislative Council Q&A session on June 9, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

“The challenge [in these five years] was unprecedented,” Lam, whose time in Hong Kong’s top post also encompassed the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, told the Legislative Council on Thursday.

The chief executive was speaking at her last question-and-answer meeting with lawmakers, on the third anniversary of the first major mass march in the summer of 2019 to oppose a controversial extradition bill. She previously halted the meetings in 2020 when democrat lawmakers were still in the chamber, but resumed them after they quit en masse in protest of the disqualification of four legislative councillors.

june 9 protest
June 9, 2019. File photo: Supplied.

“I can say boldly that I have delivered a report card I am not ashamed of, and have written a perfect full stop to my 42 years in public service,” said the outgoing leader and former career civil servant.

Lam added that she was driven by “a strong sense of historical mission” and a “strong sense of responsibility of the times” during her term.

During the one-and-a-half-hour session, constitutional affairs chief Erick Tsang was spotted practising Chinese calligraphy.

Erick Tsang calligraphy Legislative Council
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang seen practicing calligraphy during Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council on June 9, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Lam, whose popularity as chief executive hit a record low, will leave office on June 30. Ex-police officer John Lee will be sworn in as Hong Kong’s leader on July 1, the 25th anniversary of the British colony’s return to China. He was elected unopposed in the small-circle race last month, securing 1,416 votes in support of his candidacy – and eight “not support” ballots – from the government-vetted Election Committee.

During her term, Lam presided over Hong Kong’s biggest post-handover protests in 2019 and US sanctions imposed on local leaders including herself who were said to have undermined Hong Kong’s economy. The city also saw rising poverty and one of the world’s highest Covid-19 death rates on Lam’s watch.

Lam said she “never for a moment” thought about resigning, contradicting a report based on a leaked recording three years ago – at the height of the protests – that she would quit if she had a choice.

Legislative Council
Legislative Council Chief Executive Q&A session on June 9, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Following the months of unrest, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law that has seen scores of activists and former lawmakers arrested.

Last year Beijing decreed a major political revamp which sharply reduces the influence of pro-democracy politicians.

‘A role model’

Lawmakers sang Lam’s praises in the question-and-answer session that followed her speech, thanking her for her service and raising few points of contention.

Michael Luk, from the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said Lam had done “quite a lot of good deeds” for the business sector. He cited the increase in maternity leave to 14 weeks and the scrapping of a controversial scheme that allowed firms to pay severance from an employee’s pension fund, among other policy adjustments.

“In the past, many people have described Mrs. Lam as a good fighter, [having a] good memory, very kind-hearted, responsible, [having a] high IQ, and very familiar with how the government works,” Luk said.

Government officials attending the Chief Executive Q&A session at the Legislative Council on June 9, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Following the “patriots-only” elections last December, the 90-member Legislative Council now consists almost exclusively of pro-Beijing lawmakers.

Lawmaker Doreen Kong, a solicitor by training, described Lam as “a role model” for women as Hong Kong’s first female chief executive.

Legislators also quizzed Lam on a number of issues.

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Kong said conditions for the elderly in care homes or living alone, or in the Covid isolation facility at Asia World-Expo, were “not so good” during the fifth-wave outbreak.

“How do you feel about that? Does the situation that the elderly were in meet the ‘golden years’ that you want [for them]?” she asked.

Other lawmakers asked Lam about how to better attract foreign talent, the possibility of “upgrading” the LeaveHomeSafe app to step up contact tracing, and likely technological developments in Hong Kong over the next decade.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.