"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Life always gets harder toward the summit—the cold increases, responsibility increases." Friedrich Nietzsche
Down the eons of civilisation, leaders have learnt that their power has limits. Last week, the public visited that harsh lesson on our senior officials and politicians.
Plus, in the modern era, with rapid interlinking communication, it is possible to soon feel how the wind of public opinion is blowing. Besides, seeking to control the narrative or covering up stuff has risks. You can expect the amplification of any falsehood, slip-up or massaging of the truth to be played back on a loop.
So, while we may not have what the West would call full democracy, the public here can exert considerable influence because the Internet's public square allows quick and impactful comment.
Thus, when news broke that senior officials and politicians partied with a possible Covid contact, matters soon escalated. Initial attempts by some to play down the incident promptly faltered.
As a blast of public indignation took hold on social media, the government faced a dilemma. It had to address public anger and curtail a possible Covid cluster. But the optics of senior officials bussed into de facto detention could hardly be worse. Yet, in the end, the correct decision was taken and Penny’s Bay soon filled.
This rapid action soon eased the firestorm of criticism. Then in another twist, the Covid alarm proved false.
Yet, this incident demonstrates a point - fast and firm action is needed to protect the community and the administration’s standing. The government can no longer bet on issues blowing over.
After all, if anything is going to fire up anger, it is the perception that officials are above the rules imposed on the rest of us. And although, in this case, the rule-breaking may amount to not using the 'Leave Home Safe' app, nonetheless, damage resulted.
To Carrie Lam's credit, she acted fast when faced with tough choices. But, looking ahead, officials and politicians will need to take extreme care in all aspects of their conduct. And although the confirmation of a false positive eases the fallout, it doesn't negate the need for a complete account of what happened.
There is plenty of evidence from academic research and life that accountability builds, sustains and affords a leader credibility. It’s worth noting that this goes beyond legal obligations into the moral domain.
Lastly never forget the court of public opinion is a ruthless judge, so officials may do well to heed the wise words in this clip.
Micheal Tien, a local politician, alleges more officials attended the event than initially thought. Moreover, he claims that Carrie Lam cautioned officials against attending large gatherings on the day of the party. Unfortunately, some officials didn't heed the advice. So far, two people who participated in the party have tested preliminarily positive for Covid. This story moves faster than a rabbit going down hill on a promise.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.