I have never understood why the (much thinner) edition of the South China Morning Post published on Sundays costs HK$1 more than during the rest of the week, but I have always assumed it was nothing to do with vast extra customer demand created by the presence on that day of a column by legislator Regina Ip. Still, her latest offering caught my eye [annotations mine]…
Older (and wiser) heads see through the spin
Nov 14, 2010
A columnist [radio host Albert Cheng, a close buddy of Chief Executive Donald Tsang] recently took retired senior officials [particularly Equal Opportunities Commission boss Lam Woon-kwong] to task for speaking out of turn and lobbing all manner of criticism at the government. Unlike many of their colonial forebears, who chose to depart Hong Kong on retirement and kept their thoughts on their successors’ performance to themselves, the present generation of retired officials seems unable to resist the temptation to pipe up. What’s bugging them? …
Unlike their predecessors – for the locals (and indeed for many expatriates who have put down roots in Hong Kong [eg outspoken ex-bureaucrat Mike Rowse]) – there is no place to call home other than Hong Kong.
More importantly, the principle of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” not only raised the people’s expectations of how Hong Kong people would govern Hong Kong, it also raised expectations in retired officials of how their successors would run the city.
And many of the retirees – including many of Hong Kong’s erstwhile high-flyers … – … have good reasons to believe that they are older but more seasoned and wiser.
Like other Hong Kong citizens, would you not be mad if you found that opportunities had diminished for your children, and that they had few chances to receive a quality education unless you paid a premium?
Despite [China], Hong Kong’s economy has stagnated in terms of the average family’s income and real purchasing power. As home prices surpass their dangerously frothy 1997 levels and a further round of quantitative easing by the US looks set to fuel our asset bubble and inflationary pressures, our government seems ever more determined to sit on its hands and do nothing.
Would you not be mad if, instead of developing real solutions to address real problems, you find your successors resorting to spin, or the kind of cheap tricks employed by the meaner operatives of Western democracy to whitewash reality [examples too numerous to list, but think Community Care Fund, irrelevant housing measures, etc]?
If you had taken care, during your public service career, to painstakingly hone your skills, build team spirit, give policy steer and take responsibility at critical times, would you not be mad if you found the successor administration slotting into high positions amateurs [political appointees] who were at best beginners and at worst imposters, who pretended to lead but were, in reality, better off outside rather than inside government?
That’s of course precisely what’s happening – ever more resources are poured into the spin machine; outsiders with little expertise in education, the environment or policymaking generally, are catapulted into senior positions as undersecretaries, or camera-shy specialists are foisted with unlikely political responsibilities [eg supposedly neutral civil servants sent by their ministers to get savaged by Legislative Council committees].
To make matters worse, with the clock ticking in the race for the next chief executive’s post, you have ugly sisters vying for the glass slippers, who have pitiably little to their credit except family wealth [Chief Secretary Henry Tang] or perhaps some unspeakable [ie rarely-discussed] ties to the ruling party of the nation [Executive Council convener CY Leung].
With the race on, you have all the candidates’ men (or women) daily putting out news of one dubious source or another to delude the community. Naturally, with so much riding on their bosses’ fortunes, would you be surprised if preservation of their fat jobs comes before advancement of the public interest?
If you cared about Hong Kong, would you not be mad?
Regina herself is of course one of these former bureaucrat high-fliers (making it as far as Security Secretary) who, having left government, are now looking on in dismay at a floundering administration and splintering society. From their point of view, everything worked fine in colonial times when the meritocratic cream of Hong Kong University flowed into the Civil Service to be mentored by British superiors into the elite that handed down flawless policy from on high and made the Big Lychee into the mighty success story it became in the 1980s-90s. They can even point to a turning point when everything started to go wrong: the mismanaged opening of the new airport at Chek Lap Kok in 1998.
Yet there can be no turning back to that idyllic system of leadership. The ‘raised expectations’ of Hong Kong’s people include government that is accountable to them – a concept abhorrent to what was the world’s most arrogant and patronizing civil service until it got shoved to one side by the Beijing-appointed new order. It is hardly surprising that Donald Tsang, the ultimate bureaucrat, often comes across as just a polished re-run of his hapless tycoon-predecessor Tung Chee-hwa.
Does Regina, now a democratically elected lawmaker, think she can do better? Of course she does: no-one goes into politics otherwise. She has shown slight signs up to now of leaning towards CY Leung, but her use of language in this article suggests a rejection not only of the present regime, in which ‘imposters’ have ended up in policymaking levels, but of both main candidates for Chief Executive in 2012 – the ‘ugly sisters’. This is gutsy by Hong Kong’s usually petrified, fence-sitting standards.
The calculation would be that when the time comes to declare an interest in the CE job she could score better public opinion ratings than either Tang or Leung. It’s an indication of how dreadful the choice is that she could well be right. She would have to come up with a suitable stance on her past and proposed handling of the idiotically sensitive Article 23 issue, which is do-able. She would have to contend with Henry’s inoffensive image and his tycoon supporters. She would have to be prepared for whatever CY Leung’s unknown forces of darkness might come up with.
No shortage of disgruntled ex-bureaucrats to back her, though.