"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Absolutely nothing rankles with the public more than the idea of rule-breakers rewarded"
Actions have consequences, and those consequences can be unforeseen. Fortunately, history is a great teacher if you bother to look. India under British rule experienced a surge in deaths due to venomous cobras, especially in Delhi. Keen to show a caring face, officials offered a bounty for every dead cobra.
In no time, the savvy folks of Delhi had cobra breeding pens at home as they capitalised on the prize. Officials realised the deceit, cancelled the bounty and the citizens released the cobras into the wild. Soon Delhi had even more cobras, and deaths escalated. Hence the 'Cobra effect'.
History comes littered with such lessons. French colonials in Vietnam fearful of a burgeoning rat population offered a reward for rat's tails.
Rat catchers went around removing tails and then releasing the rats to breed in the sewers—a nice earner for rat catchers, with no decrease in rat numbers. China's 'four-pests' campaign is another example.
More recently, carbon credits proved a lucrative source of income for companies. Starting in 2003, the European Union gave industries disposing of polluting gases cash for their environmental efforts. Except that the companies churned out more of the most noxious gases for no other reason than to get payment. Carbon credits made these noxious gases profitable. By 2013 the EU wised up.
I do wonder if our officials study history because they've announced a $5,000-HK reward to folks infected with Covid-19. Granted they've applied some payment stipulations, but these look surmountable and imprecise. There is no means test. Let's be clear; some people will be going out of their way to catch Covid-19 to secure payment. Social media is already alive with chat of possible Covid parties.
Meanwhile, citizens who play by the rules, wear masks and practice social distancing go unrewarded. Is Hong Kong the only place paying people to become sick? Looks like it.
I can't help but think the government is struggling to refute claims from the medical profession that compulsory testing will drive carriers underground. The argument goes that the working poor, who can't afford to forfeit days off work, won't come forward for testing. If that's the rationale, then $5,000-HK is a token gesture with potentially terrible consequences.
Are any of the infamous 'dance cluster' in line for a payout? What are the majority of the population to think? Absolutely nothing rankles with the public more than the idea of rule-breakers rewarded. Their money is being siphoned off to support the utterly irresponsible.
For the uninitiated, the 'dance cluster' is grabbing the Covid headlines. It's a story with all the tasty elements of a scandal; rich 'senior' ladies attending dance lessons with young male 'instructors' who are less well off. The instructors are mostly eastern European men, some with dubious claims to royal blood.
Until now these 'dance clubs' operated below the radar. According to sources, the most popular dance is the 'horizontal mambo'. The blame falls to the 'dance cluster' for our current surge in cases.
For a long time, it has struck me that officials either don't know or are blind to the mini-cultures and sub-groups in our society. The question needs asking 'Has anyone conducted an audit of activities that present a high-risk of Covid transmission because of behaviours?'.
The recent terrible fire in Jordan and the 'dance cluster' suggest the authorities don't have the full picture. Reports are circulating of private parties in hotels, rented apartments and on boats. There is much going on in the veiled corners of society where officials aren't inclined to look. Is the next cluster coming from there?
Instead of throwing public money around with potentially adverse repercussions, how about grappling with risks in a pro-active manner? Then put in place early interventions. Would I be straining creditability to suggest an excellent place to start would be Hong Kong's one-woman brothels, that daily serve hundreds of thousands of customers? Is there any action on that potential infection route? Or is Carrie and her team too prudish to recognise the reality of life?
In the seemingly endless war of attrition against Covid-19, the government has done well, although the recent clusters suggest a dysfunctional approach in parts. Lastly, no word yet on a vaccine programme for Hong Kong. Other places are moving ahead to make plans. Come on, Carrie!
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.