Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised to distribute a freshly released “diversity list” – comprising 16 Hongkongers of ethnic minority descent qualified and willing to serve on government advisory bodies – to all 13 of the city’s bureaus to promote inclusion.
Speaking at the list’s public unveiling on Monday, Lam said she wanted it to be embraced not only “by the Chief Secretary for Administration herself” but by her 13 principal official colleagues heading up government bureaus and responsible for nominating individuals to sit on boards and committees under their respective purviews.
The list, developed by think tank Zubin Foundation with leadership consultancy Spencer Stuart, featured 11 Indians, two Pakistanis, a Filipino, an Indian-American and an Indian-German.
The foundation’s founder Shalini Mahtani said the final candidates were selected “based on merit only” and that their ethnicity, gender and age were not further considered after they were deemed eligible to be considered for the list.
Candidate Theresa Cunanan, a senior lecturer at Baptist University, expressed hope over the initiative. “If Carrie Lam is here today to receive the list, this is one step for the government,” she said.
The foundation received 62 nominees after they reached out to close to 70 related organisations, consulates general and communities about putting together a list of candidates for the government to appoint to various advisory bodies and committees, of which ethnic minorities were at present grossly underrepresented.
The 16 finalists:
Theresa Cunanan (Filipino), senior lecturer, Baptist University
Anita Gidumal (Indian), finance adviser, Luxe City Guides/Abercorn Trading Company Limited
Vijay Harilela (Indian), solicitor; consultant, Harilela Hotels Limited
Alok Jain (Indian), deputy operations director, Kowloon Motor Bus Company Limited
Hanif Kanji (Indian), doctor; CEO, Sinophi Healthcare Limited
Shekhar Kumta (Indian), doctor; professor, department of orthopaedics and traumatology, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Azan Aziz Marwah (Indian, American), barrister, Gilt Chambers
Vikas Subhashchandra Mehra (Indian), programme director, HSBC
Vishal Melwani (Indian), accountant and solicitor; partner, Eversheds
Thirupathi Nachiappan (Indian), director, Meenaach Holdings Limited
Arun Nigam (Indian, German), solicitor; partner, Arun Nigam Associates, Solicitors
Sabita Prakash (Indian), head of business and development and investor relations, ADM Capital
Kishore Kundanmal Sakhrani (Indian), board Chair, Community Business Limited
Naubahar Sharif (Pakistani), associate professor, University of Science and Technology
Shalini Sujanani (Indian), managing director for corporate clients, ING Bank Hong Kong Branch
Rizwan Ullah (Pakistani), head of communications and public affairs, Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo)
Only 0.4 per cent of the 1,500 people serving on 100 government advisory bodies were of either non-Chinese or non-white descent.
Mahtani said none of the nominees identified as an “ethnic minority” but all identified as being a Hongkonger. They further stated that race had not affected their sense of identity and belonging in a city they regarded as their home.
Of the 62 nominees, 71 per cent were Indian, 11 per cent Pakistani, eight per cent Nepalese, eight per cent Filipino and two per cent Thai.
Foreign domestic workers and Caucasians were excluded from the initial list.
Candidates had to satisfy stringent criteria, including achieving excellence in their field of work, a certain standing in their profession, a commitment to serving Hong Kong, and a willingness to join a committee should they be invited.
Listed candidate Hong Kong-born solicitor Vijay Harilela, a consultant for Harilela Hotels Limited, said it was important to have more non-Chinese, non-white representatives in advisory bodies as it would demonstrate that minorities were accepted as part of local society.
Another candidate, barrister Azan Aziz Marwah, said it was “tremendously important” to have such diversity on government advisory groups. “These boards are the mechanism through which the views of regular people are being heard,” he said.
In her remarks, Lam noted that “some notable examples of experienced and competent non-Chinese individuals” had served in various boards and committees”. Yet the chief secretary sounded a regretful note. “I’m sorry to say that perhaps all of these names make up only the 0.4 per cent”, adding that they were “all good team players who provide useful advice and assistance to the respective advisory and statutory bodies they serve”.
Lam said individuals could nominate themselves by putting their names forward to the Home Affairs Bureau.
Former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping said the list was worth considering and that there should be a clear goal set for having a ratio of ethnic minorities in any particular body.
“If the government said there should be one ethnic minority representative in this area, they would have a goal and try their best to look for someone,” said Wong, noting the government at one point allocated 25 per cent of advisory body seats to women.
“People are more concerned about equality,” Wong added. “It would be good to let voices of relatively weaker groups be heard. For example, do they have any special needs in education?”