The tycoon-funded, bureaucracy-run Community Care Fund announced last week is turning into the predictable embarrassment sooner than any right-thinking person dared hope.
The stingy and clunky structure of the scheme alone was enough to tarnish the idea from the start. The HK$10 billion to be raised will mostly just sit there; barring any unforeseen ‘worthy cases’, only the income it produces will actually be disbursed. And civil servants will manage the application and distribution process, inevitably sapping the fund’s effectiveness through slowness, condescension and fear of criticism from anyone anywhere.
On top of that, the Fund highlights the government’s own policy shortcomings. The plan is to aid people who are in poverty but who aren’t receiving welfare under the current system – which raises the obvious question: why aren’t they? Some are part of the sharp increase since 1997 in the number of Mainland immigrants who can’t afford to live here and are ineligible for public handouts when they first arrive. Some are people too ashamed or busy dragging boxes of recycleable trash around to apply. Some aren’t poor enough for welfare because they live with – and burden – marginally unpoor families. All state systems of wealth redistribution screw up; the Fund will illustrate how ours does.
Then there is the shallow and contrived basis of the idea. The government, sitting on a thousand billion or so in cash, stumps up HK$5 billion, apparently imagining that a pitifully grateful populace will fall to its knees in thanks at this highly generous use of its own wealth. The same government then arm-twists property tycoons into donating a matching amount, under the illusion that this will transform the increasingly loathed grasping, cheating, monopolistic parasites into popular, just-plain folks. In the Chinese-language press, the concept has been ridiculed as a high-class version of the socialite/social-climber-fests that are Tung Wah Hospitals fund-raising telethons on TVB.
As if that weren’t enough, the Fund is unashamedly designed as a platform upon which Chief Secretary and Shanghai textiles heir Henry Tang can masquerade as some sort of benevolent man of the people in order to bolster his popularity and thus, in theory, his chances of being appointed Chief Executive in 2012. Henry is the ‘nice but dim’ candidate; his position as a full-time government official bars him from the sort of quasi-electioneering being engaged in by his rival, the ‘not nice and not dim’ CY Leung.
And now, as if the integrity of the yet-to-be-launched Fund weren’t battered enough, along comes real estate mogul and court jester Ronnie Chan to say he won’t donate a penny to it. The Standard quotes him as saying that his Hang Lung Group’s money belongs to shareholders, the squeezing of tycoons reminds him of Suharto (an interesting analogy), the Fund will compete with existing charities and things would better if the government scrapped the high land-price policy (which, we recall, is what makes the property cartel effortlessly rich and the poor even poorer). The South China Morning Post gingerly goes so far as to add that Chan is a CY Leung supporter.
Since inheriting Hang Lung from daddy, Ronnie has overseen a sharp decline in the company’s Hong Kong market share to the extent that the firm is nowadays mainly a Mainland developer. He has no great love for the big boys who have been sucking up the billions his company would have helped itself to in the old days. He also doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. He hates democracy, sat on the board of Enron, hobnobs with American foreign policy elites and preaches God to wayward youths on the street. Now he is adding to the troubles of an already-flawed bit of Henry’s CE campaign.
CY Leung is rare among Hong Kong’s establishment in that he publicly recognizes the evils of the high land-price policy. He is therefore a threat to the property tycoons, who are sitting on artificially valuable land banks (apart from Ronnie, who isn’t). The tycoons therefore love Henry. The newspapers, meanwhile, love the tycoons – or at least the large revenues they make carrying ads for the tycoons’ apartment blocks, supermarkets, drug stores, etc – and thus veer towards Henry too. So CY needs all the help he can get.
I hate to say it, but when you need help from Ronnie Chan, it’s not strictly speaking a good sign.