‘Administrative Experience’ – a fate worse than teaching

The South China Morning Post treats readers to another double-page spread of Chief Executive candidate blather, this time with the three individuals asking each other questions. The answers (with one exception) are as Propofol–like as you would expect. The questions are more telling.

CY Leung successfully highlights his two rivals’ weaknesses. He invites Albert Ho to provide an example of the sort of economic illiteracy befitting of Hong Kong pro-democrats, and is duly obliged with twaddle about expanding the Convention and Exhibition Centre. And he skewers Henry Tang’s claim to good relations with civil servants by citing the Mike Rowse case (when Henry the accountable official, his wife perhaps being unavailable at the time, publicly offloaded blame for some tediously obscure wrongdoing onto a bureaucrat).

Albert Ho, given a rare opportunity to put the two ‘serious’ candidates on the spot about, say, housing or health care or the fiscal reserves, has to blow it with some mind-numbing question about functional constituencies. The FCs are a means by which Beijing can guarantee a veto in the Legislative Council; a fully independent legislative branch would be incompatible with a one-party state. Neither CY Leung nor Henry Tang could do anything about it if they wanted to.

Henry barely deigns to ask Albert Ho anything, but he tries to highlight one of his own perceived advantages by demanding how CY could be Chief Executive without administrative experience in government. To his immense credit, CY replies…

I cannot see the logic of ‘administrative experience’ being an essential pre-qualification for the office of the chief executive…

The chief executive is a political leader, not an administrative person. He leads with vision and provides direction to the government and the community. He is supported by a team of political officers who in turn rely on the civil service to implement government policies. Senior civil servants are experienced administrators…

This is the first time I can remember anyone saying this. It seems to be taken for granted in Hong Kong that you must have administrative experience to lead.

Partly, it’s a way to keep non-bureaucrats at bay. A few years ago, there were two candidates for head of the Equal Opportunities Commission. One was the boss of a charity – charismatic, articulate and very clever (and of humble origins and physically handicapped). The other was a civil servant. No prizes for guessing which one got the job, and what the official excuse was. (As it happened, the bureaucrat went native and turned into a proponent of gay marriage, education for brown kids and other outlandish stuff.)

But the assumption you must have something called ‘administrative experience’ is also part of the Big Lychee’s cult of credentials. Google the phrase alongside Donald Tsang’s name to see how entrenched the idea is. CY has someone on his team who questions things. No wonder he scares people.

A similar widely held notion in Hong Kong is that hard work is the secret of success. Good exam results and sparkling careers result from grueling, grinding effort and little else. Today’s Standard, in one of its half dozen or so shoe-shining items, attributes the rise of one Miranda Kwok to the top of one CCB (Asia) bank to 26 years of it.

Personally, I find it more impressive when people achieve through guile and wit and having fun and goofing off as much as possible, especially when it comes to the tedious stuff. I seriously empathize. Do what you enjoy and hire people with ‘administrative experience’ to do all the rest.

In US Democratic Party primaries for a couple of decades, candidates all went around loudly proclaiming how they weren’t going to mention Chappaquiddick – the scandal that made Ted Kennedy unelectable. The equivalent buzz word in Hong Kong is, of course, ‘basement’. Disappointingly, the word does not crop up in the SCMP’s little debate. To redress this omission (and with thanks to Ms Lillian Court), I am delighted to present the Jesters – they had to be called that didn’t they? – and their long lost foot-tapper, ‘Down in Uncle Henry’s Basement’


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30 Responses to ‘Administrative Experience’ – a fate worse than teaching

  1. groot oore says:

    Depressing Monday with no new CE scandals in the local press. What is a crossfire exchange, anyway?

  2. Old Timer says:

    Anyone see Newsline last night? Not sure who looked more uncomfortable, Henry Tang, his wife, or Chugani. Excruciating stuff for guests, host and viewers alike.

  3. Bela Lugosi says:

    Greetings, my children of the night.

    Is it a chill from the North you feel at present? (Cackles off). There is more to come.

    The challenge No 1 facing the Chinese Communist Party is how to beat down the power of the tycoons. Hong Kong will be a start when CY Leung is elected.

    The howls of my werewolves will be drowned out by the cries of horror when mass appropriation and control takes place, all with the blessing of a hypnotized population, drooling for more handouts.

    The darkness declares the glory of the light. A nice slogan that!

  4. Real Tax Payer says:

    Interesting that the reply by CY to HT also caught my attention among all the other cotton wool and fluff in todays SCMP

    It’s sort of obvious when you think about

    The truly great leaders of the past ( one immediately thinks of Churchill and Roosevelt ) didn’t have any real admin experience : they went off and fought Boers and did other “leadership” things , so that when their time came to lead they could LEAD .

    I’m sure our tycoons are lousy administrators, but they sure must be good leaders : a small handful for good but mostly for bad.

    But I agree – for CY to use the dreaded ‘L’ word must put the fear of God (or ‘ell) into our tycoon class…. and the likes of Donald’s lame duck cabinet.

  5. PropertyDeveloper says:

    The political debate is severely compartmentalised, with all the mainstream media commentators — present company excluded of course — afraid to put even a feeler over the parapet. The word “integrity” was absent for a decade or two, but it’s now come back in fashion. “Sustainable development” is on the way out, perhaps fortunately. The level of debate is so low that arguments are won by simply plugging in the keywords of the day, invariably nouns.

    In a similar way the SCMP’s “debate” was a bit like being hit with a dead sheep, with CY’s elegant and accurate ripost the only ray of light. They’re all just going through the motions.

    To compensate, surely the Heung Yee kuk triad free-dinner mudslinging scandal could be whipped up a bit more? And I’m waiting for “I don’t think there are any more skeletons in my closet” to trigger off the knock-out blow that CY/the organisation formerly known as the NCNA/the colonial govt in exile have hopefully been keeping in reserve.

  6. PropertyDeveloper says:

    The (neo)colonial mentality lingers on. If your power is severely curtailed by distant overlords, there’s no point in lucidly analysing the problems or launching any reforms, they’ll just rebound on you.

    All you can do is administer rather than rule, avoid conflict, keep accounts and minutes, act like a chief executive rather than a prime minister, hoping the emperor will be to busy to swat you.

  7. Stephen says:

    @Old Timer

    For Brits of a certain age (of which I am one) we would watch commentators like Robin Day or Brian Waldron tear strips of politicians at the mere scent of blood. In Hong Kong we get Chugani.

    I don’t know if Chugani reads this blog but FFS what did you need to promise The Horseman and Lisa to get them to come on the show ?

    The Horse is on the ropes 4 or 5 good questions would have finished off this half wit nag for good – why did you not ask them ?

  8. Joe Blow says:

    It amuses me that some people view the CCP as a singular monolith with a mind and *gulp* a vision. The CCP is a Frankenstein’s Monster that -if conceived today- would be stillborn. It actually consists of a 100 different fractions that are solely united by the common vision of endless self-enrichment.

  9. Wanchai Dreamer says:


    Perhaps Leo Goodstadt in his prime would have been tempted to ask at least one or two decent questions.

    But Hong Kong has never really developed the tradition of skinning politicians alive in public – wish it had! Here people seem to get more satisfaction from observing the lingering death as credibility, integrity and all the things that really matter ebb slowly away.

  10. Old Timer says:

    Indeed, the Weekend World theme music was the most exciting thing about Sunday lunchtimes in Gloucestershire in the early 1970s.

  11. maugrim says:

    No doubt Henry worked his was up through the Civil Service in gaining such ‘Administrative Experience” /sarc. Amusing to see some aghast that a triad member might have been at the same table. I wonder if they compared notes? That said, an honest examination as to where triads actually operate in HK would make interesting reading. I read that report the (ex?) gweilo policeman had on the web, very interesting and something to contemplate on a minibus ride some time.

  12. Real Tax Payer says:

    OK… let’s talk about POLITICAL LEADERS.

    The rigmarole that the USA goes through with all these primaries seems to go for ever, but it does sort out the sheep from the goats ( with the occasional bush-tailed fox slipping through as the exception), so it’s a sort of survival of the fittest. thing . I doubt if CY would get through even one round of that public mauling , but he might survive long enough to be savaged by a dead horse ( @ PD : I think correct term is being “savaged” by a dead sheep)

    In merry old England there are none of these time-wasting primaries , but the evolution / dog-eats-dog thing is still pretty effective in culling dead sheep / horses because the ruling party can kill off its own leader in one afternoon of back-stabbing if they think he/she has lost the mandate of the people, and so overnight the UK has a new PM. Witness the fate of Maggie.

    In the Mainland I the political system is equally ruthless : witness the way Bo Xili has had his wings (and balls) cut off for trying to flyy too high/ too soon . So only the very fittest survive long enough to make it to the top.

    ( I hid a quiet smile when Maggie went to BJ thinking the Iron Lady was more than a match for little fag-smoking/ bridge-playing Deng Xiaoping. What she forgot was that Deng had survived 2 – or was it 3 ? – brutal Mao purges, and in the war of liberation he had killed KMT soldiers with his bare hands).

    Well, if CY does lose this time round it will do him a power of good and he’ll come back firing on all 12 cylinders in 2017 – or more likely if ET flunks it halfway through his term and a million people take to the streets …. which could really happen.

  13. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Maugrim : Please can you tell us the reference about the ex-gweilo policemen article ( just for interest) ?

    Personally I think Hemmers wrote the truth a few days ago when he said that it would be a news event only if there was NOT a triad member of two at a HYK dinner. I noticed the press reports that the HYK regularly uses Mr Kwok to “get things done” out in the sticks.

  14. Henry says:

    I just watched the Newsline program on YouTube. Did I get that right???? Henry, after getting caught having an affair, helped his wife Lisa “move on” from the trauma of it…???? Well done the Horse, maybe he does have something about him after all (even though that thing is probably just sly scheming)

  15. Old Bill says:

    Chugani let Henry off lightly … that was probably the deal. Be nice and I’ll grace your show with my presence.

    As regards the triads and the Heung Yee Kuk, what’s the difference? When Donald let LAU Wong-fat into Exco that was a sign of things to come. To borrow an old chinese phrase “We are all swimming in dirty waters now!”

  16. Real Tax Payer says:

    I guess triad is quadruped minus one leg

    I can hear now the pigs in the Animal Farm cellar, tipsy with Chateau Neuf d ‘Enerie , chanting “Two legs good, Four legs better ( but please NO three legs : this is HK/ Kowloon my dears, not the NT)”

  17. maugrim says:

    RTP, sorry, can’t find it. I thought it might have been on Hemmer’s old site, I searched to no avail. It was a PDF document from memory of the thoughts of an ex-HK Policeman, more like a tertiary dissertation, on triad activities in HK. It was fascinating reading.

  18. gunlaw says:

    I just made a Functional Constituency, without asking. It took 4 paragraphs of prosaic prose for the registration wallahs to say so but, using 16 pairs of defining but tentative brackets in those 4 paragraphs, demonstrated why Administrative Experience is to be avoided.

  19. Regislea says:

    The SCMP – what I thought showed the complete lack of touch was the citing of Blair and Obama as validation that no administrative experience is necessary.

    With role models like them, how can we fail?

  20. No Future For You says:

    I believe this is the PDF Maugrim mentioned;


    Swimming in dirty waters indeed.

  21. Maugrim says:

    Thanks No Future, but it was a different one. From memory written by an ex policeman.

  22. Old Bill says:

    These articles were written in the early 1970s, when syndicated corruption ran through the civil service and had a strong hold in the police force. I’m glad to say those days are long gone and the modern cops I know are appalled and dismayed at Donald’s behavior.

    The generation Y guys, who now make up a good portion of the junior ranks, are inherently honest, although the odd individual may occasionally stray, I’ve got to say that the civil service and the police are clean.

    As to the Triads. lets be clear that they will never be totally eradicated, but can be contained. The glare of publicity that recents events has brought onto their activities is a good thing, because these guys don’t like operating in the sunlight.

    The ICAC now face a real challenge … can they bring Donald to account for his actions? If not then their reputation will suffer and people will be less prepared to come forward with reports.

  23. Joe Blow says:

    I am no friend of Donald, but putting the ICAC on his case is ridiculous. The guy took a trip on a private jet and a private yacht. So what ? Does anyone really think that the owners of the plane or the yacht were awarded special deals or advantages in exchange for ‘transport privileges’ ?

  24. Old Bill says:

    @JB. A civil servant in LCSD was fired and lost his 20 year pension for lending $500-HK from a Tennis Coach, there was no suggestion of special deals or advantage. A police sergeant lost his pension and went to jail for accepting a free ticket to ride on a ferry to Macau from a road contractor. Again, there was no suggestion of special deals. These rules are there to deter and Donald is not above the law or at least I hope he is not.

  25. Real Tax Payer says:

    @Old Bill

    I agree with you . We can’t have one law for the top civil servants and one for the lower ranks

    I knew an AO who, because of a purely private loan from a business friend, with no strings attached, and who was ratted on by a rival AO to the ICAC, eventually committed suicide

  26. Old Timer says:

    Donald’s dad was a Desk Sergeant. Nuff said?

  27. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    I was among the unwashed hippies in Sok Kwu Wan, Lamma Island at the Bookworm Cafe a few weeks ago and they had a book written by a gweilo cop from the 1960s on triads in Hong Kong. Interesting reading.

    Found it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Triad-Societies-Hong-Kong-Morgan/dp/B000Q64TZA/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1331609577&sr=8-12

    Recognisable by the man in the silly costume.

  28. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Maugrim

    Thanks for the link. Who wrote that? Was it Elsie Tu?

    I guess the modern-day equivalent is the shenanigans going on in the business world , with David Webb playing the role of the whistle-blower ( and the SFC taking no notice while they ponder their new $7B HQ)

    Funnily enough, the latest Webb- reports focus a lot on the recent shady dealings of one J. Lau, whose bother – if am not mistaken – is the owner of the Golden Toad on which Donald sailed back from Macau.

    I once met a lawyer who works in the commercial sector who said it would be a news-worthy event only when J. Lau did NOT do a deal that was either shady or worse.

  29. Dr. Ruth says:

    Thanks for that old document, Maugrim. I also wondered if it had been written by Elsie Tu, but conlcuded that the style and tone were probably too sophisticated for her. However, reading about the kind of corruption she fought against and how the colonial government did so little about it for so long makes clear the origins of her knee-jerk cynicism toward the colonial government and those who still hold it up as some sort of example to emulate.

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