Pot orders kettle to gleam

If it’s humiliating for Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive to be told by the Chinese Premier to run a clean administration, it’s probably supposed to be. Not for CY Leung personally so much as for the outgoing government – and for the city as a whole.

The Big Lychee has never attracted the clichéd ‘squeaky clean’ tag that zombie foreign correspondents habitually use to describe the sovereign public-relations operation known as Singapore. We are allowed to admit this place isn’t perfect. I once heard a complaint from a small-time supplier of playground equipment that he couldn’t get orders from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department because a rival was offering kickbacks. Who doesn’t assume that minor public-works projects in the New Territories are fixed by local politicians to benefit their buddies? But compared with the old days, when police and other corruption was rife, Hong Kong is reasonably close to spotless – legal infrastructure and land boondoggles notwithstanding.

More to the point, Hong Kong – along with the Lion City – is in a pristine league of its own compared with most of Asia. In Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere, many public-sector workers buy their positions, and pay their supervisors to retain them; the supervisors pay their bosses, and so on up the hierarchy. An official who does not divert contracts to his uncle is a fool, not to say a disgrace to the family. Corruption is a parallel tax and welfare system. And, of course, this goes for Mainland China too, despite Premier Wen Jiabao’s incessant pleas to stamp out the problem.

Hong Kong’s name has been sullied, with Time placing it in the same headline as the word ‘graft’. Still, to put it in perspective, a Dow Jones round-up of global sleaze du jour tucks the recent Kwok brothers/Rafael Hui arrests down there among bribery in New Jersey and South Africa. The real damage is to the city’s self-image. Outgoing Chief Executive Donald Tsang will now probably go down in the popular mind as the man who let the rot set in. The local boy who made good, who at least scrapped Saturday mornings in the office and introduced a minimum wage, ended up jetting and yachting with second-tier billionaire riffraff – and appointing a Chief Secretary apparently in bed with Sun Hung Kai Properties.

Such betrayal calls for vengeance. A scene we’d like to see: the day after his inauguration, a stern-faced CY oversees a ceremony at which Donald, Hui, the Kwoks and [fill in all your shoeshining favourites] are lined up and ritually stripped of their Grand Bauhinia Medals, Gold Bauhinia Stars, Justice of the Peace badges, Jockey Club Stewards’ ostrich-feather hats, Hong Kong Club bumper stickers, honourary doctorates from Kowloon-side universities and photos of them shaking hands with President Hu Jintao, while their weeping wives have their heads shaved over in the corner. A symbolic purification. As Wen – fresh from pulling the knife out of Bo Xilai – puts it: “people’s relations will become more harmonious.”

Click to hear ‘Do it Clean’ by Echo and the Bunnymen!


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22 Responses to Pot orders kettle to gleam

  1. maugrim says:

    HK is an interesting place given the one degree of separation that is always going to exist from living in such a small incestuous pond. However, kickbacks are always in the background here with lai see quite possibly going to the person designated with procuring services from the ‘lucky’ company who is somehow always able to come up with the lowest bid. This is all tip of the iceberg stuff, with a lot of eyebrow raising things coming under the heading of ‘cultural practices’. This is of course also small fry compared to the topics of ‘mutual business interest’ being discussed each day at places like the Fuk Lam Moon. I know I’m going to cop flak for this, but in my experience, the worst offendors from the should know better category, by a long mile, are our Police force, who behave in a way that other civil servants wouldnt dream of. No money passing hands or anything like that, more what i would term unethical behaviour.

  2. Real Tax Payer says:


    A thought-provoking missive today. Whatever Hui and the Kwoks did or didn’t do, they obviously did enough to invoke the ICAC.

    Betcha Donald is wishing he never went for a 2nd term, just as old Tung wishes he never went for one either.

    All power corrupts. Total power corrupts totally.

    I just thank God that the company I work for has super-ethical standards and enough checks and balances to keep managers like me on the strait and narrow .

  3. paul says:

    I think Wen can admonish CY without pots and kettles coming into it. It is surely done on the basis that HK must remain an example to the mainland to encourage and show how improvement in beating corruption can be achieved there. It is certainly not put on the basis that the Beijing regime has anything to teach HK in this regard. The fall of Bo Xilai is a far bigger story than any corruption investigation (or possible charges) into Donald, Raphael and their SHK friends. The difference is Bo has been cut down by the Govt for posing a threat to its exercise of power. In no way has he been undone as a result of any action by independent anti corruption agencies, (there being no such thing in the PRC).

  4. Probably says:

    “Corruption” in HK takes different forms than in the rest of SE Asia. As an aside I once had a Malaysian acquaintance try to tell me how good Malaysia was because it only had to add a 3% of contract value kickback for public works whereas Indonesia was 10%, Vietnam 50% and Philippines 100%!

    In HK it is “cartelisation” that is the issue whereby vendors of a specific product in a supposed free market get together to decide the business split between themselves (based on last few years’ sales figures) and then set the price for so called “open” tenders that give them each their share plus a healthy margin.

    Now the new competition bill should be setting out to address this but I already see from this morning’s SCMP, particularly the Tom Holland article, that the forces of darkness are already trying to water this down.

    I feel there is another top tip here for CY with this bill to make himself popular with the 99%.

  5. Walter De Havilland says:

    @ maugrim. If you have evidence of ‘unethical behaviour’ then present it to the appropriate authorities.

  6. Joe Blow says:

    Cathay Pacific pilots -those over-paid busdrivers- operate a ‘closed shop’ system that is both harmful and unethical.

  7. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ WDH Does “unethical” in the case of the police force cover foot patrol policemen jay-walking in a location , when the police have one of their anti-jay-walking monthly blitzes, would earn a member of the public an on-the-spot fine?

  8. Jean Paul Sartre says:

    You have dirty hands or no hands.

    “You cling so tightly to your purity, my lad! How terrified you are of sullying your hands. Well, go ahead then, stay pure! What good will it do, and why even bother coming here among us? Purity is a concept of fakirs and friars. But you, the intellectuals, the bourgeois anarchists, you invoke purity as your rationalization for doing nothing. Do nothing, don’t move, wrap your arms tight around your body, put on your gloves. As for myself, my hands are dirty. I have plunged my arms up to the elbows in excrement and blood. And what else should one do? Do you suppose that it is possible to govern innocently?”

    ― Jean-Paul Sartre, Les mains sales

  9. Stephen says:


    If Maugrim presented it to the Police he would risk a good kicking …

  10. Old Bill says:

    Dear Maugrim,

    Gives us some specifics on your allegation of unethical conduct or are you just sounding off without any evidence to support the assertions you make.

  11. Hendrick says:

    Has Bela fecked off ? Maybe impaled.

  12. Maugrim says:

    Bill and WDH, I can assure you Im not sounding off. My initial comment says pretty much what I wish to say. I respectfully suggest you re-read it.

  13. Joe Blow says:

    When it becomes common practice for retired Commissioners of Police to take up (well-paid) post-retirement jobs with large property developers, then what message does that send to the present and future Commissioner(s) of Police ?

  14. Old Bill says:

    Are you seriously suggesting that jay walking amounts to unethical conduct? Sure it’s wrong and unacceptable for cops to do it, but the way that comments were being banded around here I’d expected something more substantial.

  15. Walter De Havilland says:

    @Stephen. Whilst I believe fears of a ‘good kicking’ are unjustified, he could opt to go to ICAC, LegCo or the Independent Police Complaints Council. There are certainly plenty of avenues to raise these sorts of issues in Hong Kong. Of course, this assumes you have the evidence to support the allegations. Last time I checked we still had an evidence based legal system.

  16. Walter De Havilland says:

    I’m in complete agreement that the conduct of one former commissioner was unconscionable. As the brother of the current CE he clearly felt he could get away with it and he did. His successor, Dick LEE, took retirement and has dropped out of public life despite apparently being offered the Secretary of Security job. So I don’t see a trend yet.

    @Maugrim. I’ve reread your post. Sorry, still don’t see any evidence to support your claim of unethical conduct.

  17. stanley gibbons says:

    Old Bill

    Is that you Bill? If so get a perspective and stop singing, as you’re past it, and WDH has hit thhe nail on the head.

  18. Joe Blow says:

    Li Kwan-ha went to work for Li Ka-shing.

  19. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Hemlock, as so often, has put his finger on a problem based on first principles.

    The Hk govt is subordinate to the Peking one, which has precious little understanding of how things work (or don’t work) here. They formally undertook, in a binding international treaty, that HK would have a high degree of autonomy.

    In such circumstances, even well-meaning “advice” from one’s boss, especially when it’s not constructive, is not welcome, especially as it can be interpreted as a threat. Advice from people who are manifestly incompetent in the area being discussed rarely is. Hence the appropriateness of pots and kettles or, to put it another way, motes and beams.

  20. Walter De Havilland says:

    @Joe Blow. He did indeed. Forgot about that.

  21. Jon Dica says:

    Last graf is incredible. Oh, we can dream…

Comments are closed.