With America’s global economic and strategic hegemony on the wane, and many European countries hell-bent on absolute decline, Hong Kong is fortunate indeed to be sitting on the edge of an emerging superpower where municipal leaders’ wives poison foreign businessmen and blind activists scale tall walls to flee official persecution. But our future success is not guaranteed, and whether we like it or not, government will play a role in how this city adapts to a changing world. So it is hardly surprising that our next Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, is planning to restructure the government so his administration can, we hope, be less generally dimwitted and incompetent than its predecessor, and help us embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.
Behold the current ‘organogram’. Were it up to me, I would create three mega-bureaus:
- Health, Education and Welfare, possibly to be named Ministry of Wealth Redistribution. Its aim would not be to mindlessly minimize social spending but to ensure that such expenditure goes to the right people and produces the right results. It would also be expected to eat interest groups like teachers and doctors for breakfast if necessary.
- Quality of Life, comprising Housing, Transport, Planning, Environment, Lands and Development (ie, infrastructure). Its mission would be turn pretty much every existing policy on its head – reduce traffic, lower housing costs, clean the air, allow more public and private space, curb over-development and make Hong Kong into a nice place for humans to live in.
- Wealth Creation (or something), covering the existing Commerce, Economic Development, Labour, Financial Services and Treasury functions. The fun bit here would be abolishing all those silly departments and agencies aimed at promoting trendy-sounding sectors (creative, high-tech, etc), subsidizing commercial loans, handing out innovation funds, and so on. I mean, what do these people do all day?
Apart from the usual blather about the 7 million-strong city’s supposed lack of political talent, most of the discussion about CY Leung’s approach has been about the style rather than the substance of his proposed structural changes. The director of his office, former senior official Fanny Law, is hectoring the Legislative Council about approving the plans so everything will be in place the moment the man takes office on July 1, and many people see this as hasty, not to say annoying. Not so much has been said about the reorganization itself, possibly because CY has not announced much detail about it, and maybe because it looks on the face of it to be a bit bewildering.
You wouldn’t have thought we needed two new bureaus on top of the current 12, and CY’s decision to establish a pair in the name of Technology and the ominous-sounding Culture surely bears this out. Pro-democratic legislator Lee Cheuk-yan is being childish in suggesting that Leung is expanding the number of senior-level offices in order to appoint, and reward, his friends. (CY doesn’t have 14 friends.) Assuming the new Kulture Minister is not tasked with developing socialist civilization with Big Lychee characteristics, this just looks like a reshuffling of existing functions.
The weird bit is the idea of appointing Deputy Chief and Financial Secretaries, each with a portfolio of responsibilities separate from their boss’s. Thus the Deputy CS will look after labour, education, culture and population policy, an assortment that seems to have been pulled from a hat. The FS and his Deputy will form a very rough version of the Quality of Life mega-bureau. China Daily tells us that the Deputy will also “focus on the nation’s 12th Five-Year Plan.” The poor wretch.
Maybe the most important part of the restructuring is the decision to bring together housing-related responsibilities that were previously separate. It’s hardly surprising the city has such a lopsided housing stock – with barely affordable private apartments now virtually smaller than dirt-cheap public ones – when policymaking has been divided among completely different agencies.
Speaking of which, the usually reasonably accurate Financial Times said a few days ago that CY was planning to “force businesses in Hong Kong to provide more subsidised housing.” A blunt correction quickly ensued. Strange: the rest of the article seemed spot-on.