Two things seem to preoccupy Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians at the moment. One is devising and disputing arcane plans for mass resignations from the Legislative Council in order to trigger by-elections that would, in their dreams, serve as a referendum on universal suffrage. If there were real public outrage at the government’s proposed constitutional reforms, it could be a highly amusing stunt. But only if executed with great discipline. So, another embarrassment in the making it is.
The other excitement is the Kam Nai-wai demi-semi-scandal, in which a middle-aged Democratic Party lawmaker has some sort of crush on a pert, youthful assistant and leaves his wife. Sort of like Bill and Monica Lewinsky, except with a bowl of noodles instead of a cigar. Or something. Even the pro-Beijing press, which would normally be expected to keep the sad tale running for weeks, are finding it all a bit too pitiful.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, the Professional Commons – the thinking man’s pro-democrats – have come up with a proposal that could save the Hong Kong taxpayer HK$25 billion, by making better use of existing lines instead of building a whole high-speed rail link to the mainland from scratch.
They have gone to great pains to be helpful and sensible. They agree that linking up with the national high-speed network will enhance the Big Lychee’s strategic position as a gateway; they avoid taking issue with the government’s economically illiterate method of forecasting the payback on the project; they even use the word ‘Boundary’ instead of the politically incorrect ‘border’. They certainly don’t ask nasty questions like “Into whose pockets will all this money go?” or “Why does this whole thing seem mysteriously to revolve around West Kowloon’s luxury apartment complexes and Elements shopping mall?”
A look at their diagram showing the interchange arrangement between the new line and the adjacent local ones is enough to make anyone feel, like Lin Cheung Road, at-grade and depressed. Indeed, it’s downright scary. Hong Kong has been invaded by evil zombie engineers:
Professional Commons treat it all with the utmost respect and keep their implicit criticisms strictly constructive. But to no avail. The sound of booklets hitting the bottom of waste paper baskets is resonating across Central from Lower Albert Road this morning. In a functioning political society, groups like Professional Commons would get a listening from policy makers; they might find their ideas being stolen by wannabe policymakers; they might end up actually being policymakers. In Hong Kong, however, they are feared by a bureaucracy out of its depth and masking its inadequacy with arrogance and disdain. Especially for outsiders who might actually know what they are talking about and who are impertinent enough to make suggestions. An idea from the world beyond the civil service is a leper.
(Well, maybe the proposal’s title, A cheaper, faster and better Express Rail Link, is a tad provocative.)
Careers, as well as vast contracts, are involved here. Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng, who tells legislators that Hong Kong will be isolated without her HK$1.5 billion-a-kilometre electric train set, is one example. She is earmarked to be Chief Secretary when (or, to be optimistic, if) the current holder of the job Henry Tang Ying-yen becomes Chief Executive in 2012. Tycoon and all-round nice guy Henry, born with silver chopstick in mouth, will ensure that Hong Kong continues to be run in the interests of what is euphemistically called the business community. Eva, lifelong member of the bureaucracy, will provide the administrative experience and other, shall we say, cranial input.
That’s the plan. Big Lychee oligarch-bureaucracy rule, version 2.0. Tung Chee-hwa and Anson Chan, but with a better script and no misunderstandings. All aboard!