"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
Oh dear. Carrie’s in another pickle. I try to interpret her behaviour in the most generous light, but she doesn't help me. This week she again demonstrated her stunning lack of sensitivity, coupled to a complete failure in political acumen.
The government has proposed changes to welfare benefits that see impoverished people aged between 60 and 64 suffer a one-third cut in their paltry payments. In response to the outcry over this stingy behaviour, Lam tells us “I am over 60 years old, but I still work for over 10 hours every day.”
Setting aside the fact that the government has massive reserves that would allow an increase, never mind a cut, Lam’s statement is revealing. To caricature her as Queen Marie Antoinette is not harsh. I know Marie Antoinette probably never said the phrase “Let them eat cakes” — yet the point is well made. Mrs Lam once again pulls back the curtain on her complete disconnect from the trials and tribulations of ordinary folk.
In the past, we’ve seen her inability to locate toilet paper after divested of her minions. They’d generally deal with such trivialities. Next, she caused hilarity as she fumbled the use of an Octopus card. On a daily basis, you see four-year-olds making their way through our MTR system ‘pinging’ Octopus on the way. That mundane action defeated our Chief Executive.
Carrie is 61 and makes great play on the long hours she works. I wonder if she'd be so sanguine after travelling through North Point MTR during rush-hour? Waiting for a bus in the rain after a hard day at work is something Carrie never faces. She glides around the city in a limousine as befits her status. Her road ahead, cleared by the cops ensuring she’s never late or inconvenienced.
Not for her the challenge at the age of 60 of holding down a job, then struggling home with your shopping. Nor does she need to worry about cooking dinner, cleaning up the home or those other mundane tasks. After all, she has a large domestic staff on hand. So I’m afraid the comparison crashes and burns under the weight of its sheer nonsense. Most of us would be happy to work long hours if we had the support services afforded our Chief Executive.
Added to this is a disingenuous claim that Carrie functions on three to four hours sleep a night. She rolls this line out like a badge of honour. All the science points towards poor performance by those who don’t get enough sleep. The research is clear in this regard.
Margaret Thatcher made a similar assertion that recently was debunked. Her bodyguard noted Thatcher needed regular naps throughout the day as bouts of irritability overtook her. Carrie has shown similar traits including outbursts at press conferences. Perhaps more sleep, less boasting is in order, for the sake of Hong Kong.
Returning to our central theme. The people denied these welfare payments are the very life and soul of Hong Kong. They toiled for 18-hour days in factories or on building sites seeking to make a home. Many arrived as refugees to build this city. To deny them a few dollars each month is mean spirited. Carrie seems to be happy to splash taxpayers money on other projects, several of which are dubious at best and downright wastes at worse.
Did we need to spend HK$5.45 billion on expanding Disney? The whole project is losing money as we bankroll the Big Rat from the US. Billions are going down the drain as the shoddy Shatin-Central link rail project shudders to a halt. A failure of government supervision likely contributed to this mess.
Carrie can even stump up HK$50 million for a musical fountain on the little-used Kwun Tong promenade. Located between the open sewer that is the Kai Tak nullah, a highway and industrial buildings, will the public even be able to hear the music? The list goes on. But no way can a few coins be given to the elderly poor. Meanwhile, the proposed cuts save only HK$100 million annually from reserves of HK$2 trillion.
Part of Carrie’s motivation is the ageing population need to work because the labour force is shrinking. Because Hong Kong ladies do not have children, we are now to be conditioned to remain harnessed to work. This approach is, of course, completely wrong. How about making it more favourable for families, by giving decent maternity leave and other incentives? Having grandma and granddad at home to look after the kids may also help. That won't be possible because Carrie wants them working.
At the core, these policies towards the underprivileged elderly contain a dark callous streak. I do wonder how Carrie balances this hard-hearted attitude with her professed Christian values. Perhaps that’s why she sleeps so little; guilt can be a terrible master.
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.