Meeting Lau Ming-wai involves going to a fancy office building on Gloucester Road, where the man himself greets you in a well fitted suit. He sits down to chat while sipping a tiny cup of coffee.
In the wake of increased anger at the government, particularly amongst youth, Young Post caught up with the chairman of the Commission on Youth (COY) to get his perspective on youth issues and how his post relates to them.
The COY collects information and opinions from not only youth, but parents, social workers and employers as well. “The biggest challenge I have is communicating these problems to the government and have them act on our suggestions.” Lau explains.
Educational matters are something that comprise 70 per cent of the comments he receives, but it’s not something the COY chair can do much about. “I can feel the stress students are under from our examinations, but my concern is youth development as a whole. Educational matters is the responsibility of the Education Bureau.”
“Even if I wanted to interfere, it might not the best idea. The COY is a bridge for communication, not mediators,” he explains. “In any case, it’s up to the government to rebuild trust with youth.”
The recent Mong Kok disturbances were a sign of the troubled relationship between the citizens and the government, but Lau says we cannot blame young people for what happened.
“If someone uses that as an example to tell me there is something wrong with Hong Kong youth, I stop them immediately,” he says. “The youth are only a minority. I know of many who are anti-government and anti-violence at the same time. Violence is acceptable under no circumstances.”
There was a bit of an uproar when Lau’s posting was announced, as people felt that he lacked experience for the job, and it was only his family connections that made it possible. “I see it as a challenge to face up to, and a way to help people,” he says with a smile. “The government didn’t show me a menu and let me choose. That’s not how it works. I slept on it and accepted the next day.”
In many peoples’ eyes, Lau’s affluent upbringing colours the way he sees the issues – but he disagrees. “That logic doesn’t hold. Does it mean a person from a blue collar upbringing can’t work in finance? My ability to communicate and understand is key. Not my background.”
However, fresh after his appointment last year, he drew fire for suggesting people take fewer vacations to Japan if they want to buy a home. But he stands by his reasoning.
“If you want to buy something, you need to save money. By definition you need to spend less. The logic is sound. If someone gets upset over these statements, then perhaps they should control their emotions better.” Lau says.
“If this offends someone, I could probably choose my words better. But I’m neither obligated to avoid what I think is the truth, nor to only say things people want to hear,” he declares. “That’s what politicians do, and I’m not a politician.”
Maybe not, but he is certainly showing a dedication to the COY. “It’s not strictly a full time job, even though I treat it like one,” he says. “I’ve been chairman for about a year now, and in that time I’ve taken part in about 160 meet and greets with various youths.”
These meetings have made a big impact on Lau. “One time I went to Tuen Mun to meet with some young people from Pakistan. Seeing their problems about their future, their difficulties in learning Chinese, even their drug problems. It made me feel powerless.” Lau reflects.
“This job is stressful and hard, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.”