In slightly premature memoriam: Sir Donald Bow-Tie Tsang

Is it too early to be writing Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s obituary? The man does, after all, have another dozen days to go before handing over to sinister Wolf-Man populist unknown-quantity Spartan/Transylvanian/Tartar CY Leung – and the latter might, for all we know, have us all begging Sir Bow-Tie to come back, all is forgiven.

The Wall Street Journal decides ‘sure, why not?’ and starts off with a graphic swift kick in the pants. In fact, two…

Back around 2004-05, I distinctly recall voices of reason and sanity calling on the government to resume land sales, otherwise we’d end up with ballooning housing prices. Throughout Donald Tsang’s watch, even as low real interest rates and Mainland buyers put extra upward pressure on the property market, the government’s policy was inaction. Was it a deranged belief that ever-higher prices are good? A high-level decision to favour property developers’ interests over the community’s and economy’s? Or just plain stupidity?

He had the same do-nothing response to rising air pollution. Here we can be certain that the government’s inaction was due to a policy decision to boost poisons in the local atmosphere. As I understand it, Donald thinks our air is not quite of Scandinavian levels of purity, but like Barcelona’s, and this has left us with one of the world’s longest life expectancies, so we must boost air pollution in order to reverse the aging population problem. If you disagree, you oppose development and are a bad person who will go to Hell when you die. To speed that up, his administration watered down a law against idling vehicle engines to such an extent that it only applies to about 12 cars in the whole city. Something along those lines. Essentially it is pure malice: your kids’ lungs cannot be more important than concrete-pouring.

The WSJ could also have mentioned the wealth gap. Government statistics people have just released their latest data on household incomes, revealing that Hong Kong’s gini coefficient is down there almost with the Central African Republic and Bolivia. Officials protest at credibility-straining length that redistribution through taxes and welfare makes things far better. This might not, however, put us as neatly into the New York/London league as they would like.

The well-off here pay very low direct tax (10-15%) by US/UK standards, while the poor probably pay at least that much as a proportion of their wealth through the invisible quasi-sales tax that feeds through land sales into the cost of living. (We don’t know for sure, but all those fiscal and other reserves must have come from somewhere.) The transfers side of the equation is also murky. For example, some public housing is occupied by people rich enough to be property owners. Payers of salaries tax – the better-off half of the work force – get allowances through tax breaks for each kid and dependent parent, while the worse-off half of workers get no equivalent handout. This looks like subsidy of the rich by the poor.

What we can all agree on is that the situation has deteriorated in the last 15 years, and during the major and more recent part of that time, we were led by… Sir Donald.

The sleazy private jet and luxury yacht trips were a smart PR move, making it less likely that we will remember Donald primarily for chucking several hundred billion dollars away on pointless infrastructure projects, hoarding hundreds of billions more in the reserves, the continued inadequacy of large parts of the school system, deliberate under-funding of hospitals, the gut-wrenchingly awful annual budgets, plus all the planning horrors, tycoon-coddling, cronyism and sheer jumped-up, arrogant, contemptuous snottiness.

On the brighter side, we have a minimum wage and competition law for those who like that sort of thing, though the latter in particular looks like a waste of paper. If you ask Donald (in private at least) what he is most proud of, it would be the constitutional reform breakthrough that led to the Democratic Party sitting down with Beijing officials and agreeing on the directly elected District Council Functional Constituency seats for this year’s Legislative Council election. It was a pretty impressive achievement in terms of pure principle. Sadly, you can’t live in, breathe or eat unprecedented talks between sworn enemies or the slightly less-rigged nature of elections they produce.

In his defence, he could point out that as a British-trained bureaucrat from the 1970s, he was bound to be a hopeless, out-of-his-depth, unimaginative idiot in the top job, and it’s ultimately Beijing’s fault for being so paranoid that it won’t trust better people to be in power in Hong Kong. In fact, I will email that very sentence to him so he can learn it off by heart and reel it off at cocktail parties and in interviews after he retires.

Epitaphs have to be positive; fortunately, they don’t need to be lengthy. Donald Tsang, 2005-2012: He wasn’t Tung Chee-hwa and we don’t have to work Saturday mornings any more.

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15 Responses to In slightly premature memoriam: Sir Donald Bow-Tie Tsang

  1. R lloyd says:

    “we don’t have to work Saturday mornings any more” would qualify him for a knight hood alone.

  2. Xiaoyao says:

    A feckless seat-warmer and epitome of the dull, mindless, incompetent side of HK officialdom. Good riddance.

  3. Real Tax Payer says:

    Sorry for my awful French but SH1T BuGGer F**K you Mr Sir D. Duck

    “I will get the job done”

    Yes you surely did that Mr Bow Tie

    Our mistake was not to ask what THE JOB WAS

    And to think that you almost imposed the awful enery tang on us to continue the same tycoon-controlled oligarchy (now that’s a nice-sounding word !)

    Personally I don’t care if CY was / is/ will be a card-carrying commie ( but I’m sure he wasn’t/ isn’t , even if he thinks that way) . As far as I can see the CCCP has done a pretty good job at lifting 1/4 of the world out of poverty to become a world-standard nation and I would happily join the CCCP if only they would accept HK gweilos .

    Bottom line : CY has a helluva task to undo the wrongs of the duck’s despondent reign, let alone do some things right – including cleaning up our air

    Sir ( spelt Cur) Donald : I thank you for nothing

    Methinks I will march on 1 July just to celebrate the end of your time in power

  4. bk says:

    To be fair to little napoleon donald, he did initially say the ban against idling engines was impossible to enforce. However since the idiot environmentalists insisted in pushing it, imposing the ‘ban’ was/is a lot easier than tackling the real issues… replacing buses/trucks, imposing user pays road tax, …

  5. Joe Blow says:

    I am glad to see the last of the pompous, arrogant little twat.

    But I still applaud him for fending off the attack on the HK dollar during the Asian financial crisis.

  6. Wanchai Dreamer says:

    As usual, Hemlock’s judicious, balanced, structured, punctuated, based-on-long-experience and thankfully expletive-free analysis should present a model for the rest of us.

    If the price of small flats in the smoggy urban wasteland is not a bubble, then Leung understands the “one country” part of a tiny spittoon-fixated man’s simplistic paraphrase of the Joint Declaration and is an ardent defender of freedom and democracy.

    When the communists are finally driven out, it will all seem strikingly obvious that it had to happen, and the the conformists will suddenly be endowed with wonderful hindsight.

  7. Stephen says:

    In fairness to CH Tung he did fairly quickly fade from view and lets hope Donald does too.

    Many were taken in, by the pious catholic who used to use quirky film references in his speeches, and anyway he couldn’t be worse than Tung? He was.

    Some older acquaintences of mine, who served in Goverment, said he was a nasty piece of work from way back. I did know him so can only comment from what is known which, is common knowledge, to the writer and readers of this blog.

    His record stinks from the collusion, environment, concrete pouring, democracy and the hoarding of obscene reserves.

    I only hope that we are not whistling that line from The Who’s “Won’t get fooled again” a few years down the line with CY Leung.

  8. maugrim says:

    I echo RTP’s contempt for the sullen twat who deserves little of any platitudes for a job poorly done. A sufferer of small chinese man syndrome, Tsang was scared of his bosses and worse, not only cheapened himself with his antics on the Golden Toad etc but hasn’t improved HK one iota. The fact that CY Leung is raising the flipping obvious, in the form of a committee to investigate poverty shows exactly how little of any good that Tsang has done.

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    Apologies for a 2nd comment / rant today but I cannot express how totally pissed of I am at Sir D Duck

    If you look at the SCMP today you will see 2 issues broadcast load and clear : our awful gini index and and our awful air

    Meanwhile we have HK$1.2 Trillion in the bank

    I spent a lot of effort in my own little back seat way to help CY get elected and I will do my best to support him from the back seat in the next 5 years to DO THE RIGHT THING , starting with the under- privileged for whom I would happily pay my full due of Tax if only I could be sure my tax is going to help THEM instead of pouring concrete, building bridges to no-where , and paying for a totally non- effective EPD

    ( Apologies for this 2nd rant, but seriously this was a Hemlock classic and dead on the ball )

  10. Vile says:

    The “we” in “we don’t have to work Saturdays any more” only applies to government. Who are, admittedly, the only people that matter.

    Even if we don’t work in one of the benighted medieval weekend-working firms of the private sector, we’re still losing any general holidays that fall on the first (working) day of the weekend. Still, at least Donald said he’d look at the issue again after 2013.

    Wait a minute …

  11. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Hong Kong has something like 18 public holidays a year. In light of such abundance, I find it hard to complain that a few fall on Saturday.

    Tsang’s follies are easy to curse, like those of Hong Kong generally. We get the government we deserve, even if we don’t get to choose it ourselves.

  12. No Future For You says:

    RTP – wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume. We need you Comrade!

    http://english.cntv.cn/20120118/112051.shtml

  13. Claw says:

    Gentlemen,

    I fully concur with Hemlock’s analysis and the comments above.

    However, I sit and watch the international news about the situation in Greece, Spain, Italy, the UK, the USA et al and breath a sigh of relief that I live here in the only moderately disfunctional HK.

    Still, one has to wonder how long this relatively comfortable position can last.

  14. Claw says:

    “breath” s/r “breathe”

  15. Vile says:

    “Hong Kong has something like 18 public holidays a year. In light of such abundance, I find it hard to complain that a few fall on Saturday.”

    The issue is not the “lost” general holidays but the fact that our world city still, officially, has a six-day working week. The fact that some foreign place called Greece should never have been allowed to join the euro (yes, we did tell them so at the time) does not mean we should not strive to better our chosen place of abode, does it? Or shall we wallow in our assuredly superior standard of living with every place that is worse off than we are?

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