A sudden outbreak of Death, Hong Kong-style. A woman committing suicide leaps from a tall building, landing on – and of course killing – an innocent bystander. I recall the first time I heard of such a thing happening many, many years ago. I mentioned it to a colleague, imagining the tragedy was unprecedented and thus fascinating. Instead, she turned very angry, banged the desk with her hand and said, “I hate it when people do that – it’s so selfish!” The Standard’s angle is that we should make sure our maids are adequately insured.
And then (ignoring the guy found hanged in a Macau-bound airplane’s toilet) we have this month’s body in a suitcase. This is eerie as it comes amid a two-day period when 75% of the people I see in Central have been dragging huge wheeled suitcases around with them. I assumed the confluence of yesterday’s Ching Ming holiday and the forthcoming four-day Easter weekend had motivated the herd-like ones to take a Spring break on some Southeast Asian beach. Maybe they were up to something else. The cases did seem heavy.
This bring us rather neatly to the inevitable revisionist treatment of Hong Kong’s recent quasi-election. Calculating the wonderfully low number of working hours I have to endure in early April, I wondered whether we would not have been better off after all with Henry Tang as Chief Executive. The (only) reason being that he did promise us an extra seven, or 39, or something extra holidays a year, and I find this one-day-on-four-days-off routine to my liking.
And now GK Research’s Cathy Holcombe writes in the Wall Street Journal that when it comes to CY Leung reforming the land/property regime, “all the talk of change will come to naught. The system is unwindable.” She quotes a leading local property agent as saying of the land system, “we have always done it this way. How can we do it differently?” Of course, he would say that. A Neolithic cave-trader would have said it 10,000 years ago when someone first suggested building and living in houses.
One person who did propose unwinding the system was economist William Overholt in a report called Hong Kong: Between Third World and First. He estimated the process would take 20 years, and if the government had picked up on the idea we would be well over two-thirds of the way through it by now. It doesn’t seem to be on-line but the HK Democratic Federation helpfully offers a transcription of his presentation to them.
Since then, Hong Kong as a community has undergone a noticeable raising of awareness – a sort of popular enlightenment that was probably triggered by Tung Chee-hwa. People think differently, not least about property tycoons (the Chinese version of Alice Poon’s Land and the Ruling Class probably played a part here.) People once just took the land system for granted or saw it as positive; now they see it as corrupt.
Alongside the Holcombe WSJ article is an editorial pointing out that the potential for corruption in our lands system largely comes down to the significant discretionary powers granted to bureaucrats who negotiate the cost of development rights with the developers. The way to fix this is to move to a rules-based system, and the ideal way to do that is to move from large up-front payments for land and development rights to annual taxes on land and property. On paper, it is simple. The assumption is that bureaucrats would fiercely resist any such thing. So the question is whether CY Leung will bow to them like his predecessors, or whether he has some ancient Transylvanian remedy to correct them – possibly inspired by Vlad the Impaler.
I have just bought one board lot of Sun Hung Kai Properties: the Kwok brothers go to prison – I lose HK$95,000. I call that a bargain.
…and an even greater pleasure than declaring this double-size weekend open.