Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivered her first policy address on Wednesday. Stepping into the adulterated air of the Legislative Council chamber, she's greeted by the antics of the Pan-Dems. Meanwhile, our old friend Long Hair was yelling his usual slogans from the public gallery. I must say the bloke deserves a medal for futile persistence. He gets evicted. Job done.
Carrie's policies are a mixed bag. Not much is new or innovative, whilst overall the package is visionless. No bad thing. In recent years we’ve had too much of the vision thing, with sweeping initiatives, grand projects and bright ideas. Most of this involved pouring vast amounts of concrete. In any case, I wasn’t expecting much. Carrie is afflicted by her upbringing as a career civil servant. Big moves and rapid change are not her forte.
She has one distinct advantage over her predecessor. The mechanics of governing are familiar to her. The hapless CY blundered around, alienating all sectors. He didn’t know how to get the job done. His only notable achievement was seeing off the ill-fated Occupy movement.
So, with the bar set low, Carrie only had to turn up to score points. Much of the initial press coverage she received was positive. Yet, as details emerged and the analysis started, the tone switched. The devil was always in the detail.
Besides, she is struggling to re-brand herself as something new. Fresh, a game changer. This is a challenge when you are the ultimate insider. The public doesn't forget that she was an integral part of the system for nearly four decades. Issues we face today grew and evolved on her watch. Even so, it appears she has some goodwill in the bank.
On the big issue of political development, she is wise enough to steer clear. There is nothing to be gained by engaging with the opposition. Given their current belligerent nature, you’d open yourself to unproductive vitriol. Anyway, the Pan-Dems continue to fragment. Thus, there is no coherent opposition to negotiate with. As the tide ebbs for the Pan-Dems, time is on Carrie's side. Standing off on political reform is an astute move.
The issue of homes for Hong Kong people continues to vex. Cooling measures have failed to check property prices, and yet these can’t be abandoned. Removal would spur another surge in the over-heated prices. Thus, Carrie at best must scramble for a few short-term fixes. The government can assuage its guilt by moving on coffin homes. These are so appalling, the movie ‘Blade Runner 2049’ used them as the design for homes in a dystopian future after an ecological collapse. When you society is held up as an example of humanities failure, something needs to change.
One initiative to help first-time buyers is already drawing bile. The proposed program means the property cartel stands to make another killing. Having banked sites for years, new projects will see them realise a hearty return on their investment. Carrie stands accused of collusion by pandering to these guys. Such criticism is not fair when weighed against the limited availability of land. Nonetheless, the label will stick.
I don't see any real movement on the issues until Hong Kong formulates a realistic population policy. The influx of mainlanders with hot money will continue to distort the market.
Her concession on profits tax opens another channel of criticism. Portrayed as a means to aid start-ups and SME's, it’s open to abuse. Further, there is no empirical evidence it will help. With government coffers overflowing, a general income tax reduction would have earned more praise.
On education, she missed an opportunity. Hong Kong’s mainstream education system is not fit for purpose. Future workers need to be creative and original, not mindless exam passers. Keeping kids on a strict diet of rote learning then exams is already having an adverse impact. Ask any employer. Of course, we got the obligatory discourse about technology and smart city! This is mandatory in any CE speech, although froth. As the West Kowloon Cultural Project and the Food Trucks have shown, the government can best help by keeping out the way.
Young people (whoever they are?) have rattled the government. In an obvious response to Occupy and the independence nonsense, Carrie is throwing money at them. On the down-side, it fosters a dependency culture. Signs already exist that Hong Kong youth lack self-reliance. Pandering to them further may make matters worst. Plus, these initiatives are an over-reaction. Occupy is long gone, whilst the independence lot are a marginal group of misfits. The majority of our youth are more focused on their iPhone games than politics.
There is talk of increasing the civil service establishment. This does not sit well with what the public. The lazy habits in certain departments are on open display. The fact that FEHD deploys eight officers to arrest an 82-year old female hawker proves the point. Shoddy service compounds the unfavourable impression. A recent one-hour wait in the Transport Department suggests improvements are needed. In many ways, the entrenched inefficiencies of the civil service need breaking down. Before expanding the headcount, the taxpayer deserves to see improvements.
Like many others, I welcomed the proposal to keep the Wanchai Sports Ground. Unfortunately, Carrie has already back-flipped on that one. The reprieve is temporary, she announced on the radio. As a result, she negated a popular decision. A small slip-up that gives an insight into her lack of PR savvy.
The Belt and Road initiative received loads of coverage. It's unclear how this will manifest itself with tangible benefits. Some resistance has developed to the concept, given it evident political dimension. Having said that, Hong Kong would be wise to get involved.
In conclusion, Carrie's style earned her some credit. Beyond that, any detailed analysis reveals a paucity of novelty or new ideas. Finally, Carrie gave mixed messages on whether she will serve a second term. This uncertainty may come back to haunt her. By this, she is signaling a lack of ambition or clear vision for the future. This provides ammunition for her critics, who will seize upon this as a weakness to label her as a ‘seat filler’.
In the current climate, leading Hong Kong is a thankless task. I wish her well. After all, Hong Kong needs to move forward to tackle so many issues. If Carrie can deliver even 20% of her proposals, that would represent progress. Mediocre progress, but nonetheless progress.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.