Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s insecure government is addicted to cronyism. It has gone beyond the stage where public positions are routinely handed out as rewards to sycophants (see the composition of any advisory board). It seems as if public bodies – like the Commission on Strategic Development empire – are created simply to provide seats on which to enthrone loyalists as an end in itself. Like its predecessor, this leadership also has a compulsive need to throw money at the slightest real or imaginary problem.
So it should hardly be surprising when an inane new expenditure item just so happens to give representatives of the obedient Democratic Alliance for the Blah-Blah of Hong Kong a chance to improve their party’s popularity and election chances ahead of this year’s district and next year’s Legislative Council elections. No-one can seriously claim to be shocked on learning that the HK$220 million earmarked for the Internet Learning Support Programme would pay for poor families’ Internet connections using a DAB-connected intermediary, the Internet Professional Association.
In fact, by the standards of Sir Bow-Tie’s administration, this little bit of chicanery is quite subtle. The recent proposal to effectively ban democratically elected legislators from resigning their seats in order to trigger a by-election-cum-‘referendum’ is sufficiently clumsy and desperate-looking to suggest the work of Mainland officials behind the scenes. But compared with half-rigged consultation exercises or dubious policing methods at demonstrations, this depressingly insipid little scandal is, so far, a non-event.
iProA, as it calls itself, is part of the warmer and cuddlier end of the United Front spectrum, and seems to play a role in garnering pro-Beijing voters to pad out the Information Technology functional constituency (anyone it declares to be eligible gets a vote). It was awarded, in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Clubs Association, the job of overseeing the Internet-for-the-poor subsidy. The hitherto obscure (contract terms) civil servant running the selection process, Jeremy Godfrey, now claims that he came under political pressure to make his decision. Much frothing at the mouth breaks out in Legco and elsewhere.
One possibility is that the ex-bureaucrat is making his story up. Confining ourselves to expats – because that is what officials mean by ‘oversensitive’ and ‘emotional when holding different views’ – we have Mike Rowse, who left public service with a chip on his shoulder, and we have Liz Bosher, now part of Anson Chan’s barely visible pro-democracy lobby group, as sort-of precedents. Disgruntled gwailo turncoats, determined to damage the government in order to further the cause of the pan-democrats, undermine the glorious motherland or whatever. Not that Godfrey really looks the sort.
Another possibility is that, amazing as it may seem, senior officials sometimes tweak and prod and shove to get the decisions they want. We are currently being invited to say whether we would like a third runway at the airport, but does anyone seriously imagine that the fate of the HK$80 billion, dolphin-massacring boondoggle is hanging in the balance, ready to fall one way or the other depending on what 7 million taxpayers think?
Would the Tsang administration turn down an opportunity to give some shoe-shiners a bit of face, letting them traipse round housing estates saying, “Hello, we’re friends of the DAB and we’d like to pay your kids’ Internet bill.”? Would it pass up a chance to boost the number of votes cast at forthcoming polls for this oily and spotty gang of losers who are the only friends this benighted government truly has? Of course not. It is so pitiful, it has no choice. All we can hope for is that in its hapless and panicky attempts to dig itself out of this latest, particularly lame, hole, the government will fall flat on its face and give us all a bit of entertainment – the least we deserve for our HK$220 million.