At least it is Central, and it is a Unit

The Standard’s ‘Mary Ma’ editorial comes up with snarky comments about the Central Policy Unit, calling them ‘slickers’. (The word can mean cheats or swindlers as well as sophisticates, but it is probably an allusion to their high salaries. Or maybe it’s a typo; I read it as ‘slackers’ at first glance.)

The column is the voice of the property tycoon/bureaucrat/Henry Tang/Donald Tsang nexus that was supposed to go on running Hong Kong after mid-2012, but as it happens didn’t. The Central Policy Unit has been through some personnel reshuffles since incoming Chief Executive CY Leung assumed power last July. The new boss, Shiu Sin-por, was former head of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute, to which CY has long been close.

In colonial times the CPU did low-profile but by all accounts serious policy research. Today, its reports tend to affirm existing policy approaches, mostly on uncontroversial social and demographic issues or politically correct cross-border economic matters. The Standard’s complaint is that the Unit wants to boost staff numbers – the new members, it goes without saying, to be hired on the usual other-worldly Hong Kong public-sector salaries. But the commentary also describes the evolution of the CPU into a shadow official PR agency with several particular roles.

One is to bolster government publicity efforts in favour of its own policies – most recently the proposed means-tested hike in elderly allowances. These TV and radio spots anger opposition legislators by casting their stance in a bad light and rousing public opprobrium against them. Given the mess we have for a political system, it is no wonder the government sees a need to speak directly to the population, though as propaganda the ads are lame and probably as self-defeating as the pro-democrats’ own refusal to cooperate with the Leung administration on principle.

Perhaps more interesting, as part of its supposed function of monitoring public opinion, the Unit is following Internet discussions – presumably to find out what the city’s youth are thinking. It is easy to deride this sort of work, or portray it as something sinister. But it looks like exactly the sort of thing our officials haven’t bothered doing in the past. Accurate (rather than filtered) reports of what the citizens out there are saying won’t automatically make policymaking less clueless, but it can’t hurt.

Another area is a longstanding job: helping to draft the CE’s Policy Address and other big announcements. The Standard, accusing the CPU of being too expensive, could have pointed out the insipid nature of past Policy Addresses, but of course didn’t.

Finally, we learn that the CPU is responsible for ‘recruiting talent … for all government advisory bodies’. To former CE Donald Tsang, these appointments were treated as pats on the head for shoe-shiners. Our favourite was Bunny Chan, who seems to sit on every committee going. Will a new generation of wolf-admiring stooges now start to replace Sir Bow-Tie’s choices when these old sycophants hop off?

More to the point, will the advisory boards continue their traditional role of maintaining a thoroughly pathetic pretense that the government listens to the public? Or will they play a less passive PR role for the government and perhaps start publicly urging official action or policy measures that – it just so happens – opposition lawmakers won’t like? Pick the right sort of members for them (and you could do worse than just picking names like courts do for juries) and the tired, stale old boards could take on a new life as suitably suggestible and credible weapons in the government’s fight against its widespread detractors. Another reason, ‘Mary Ma’ would say, not to increase the CPU budget.

Across the page: this is becoming a mental health issue. Following government measures to calm the Hong Kong residential property market, investors with a staggering paucity of imagination – maybe it’s the financial equivalent of obsessive-compulsive disorder – are piling into vehicle parking spaces. The Standard report mentions 80-square-foot spaces going for over HK$1 million and notes that the major developers are now selling the car parks attached to their new projects, whereas normally they would rent them out.

You would have thought this last point would tell us all we need to know about the wisdom of buying the little oblong bits of concrete at these prices. The families behind the city’s property cartel invest their fortunes in Australian infrastructure, British ports, Asian hotels, Canadian energy and no doubt an extensive range of international equities and much else. For Hong Kong’s unoriginal middle class, the universe of possible asset classes begins and ends with local real estate.

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8 Responses to At least it is Central, and it is a Unit

  1. Lois Beluga says:


    You are more AVR.

    Arcane Vituperative Ratiocination.

  2. Walter De Havilland says:

    I met SHIU Sin-por in the mid-1990s when he spoke about post-1997 Hong Kong being ruined by the locals. He doubted that the so-called ‘local elite’ had the gravitas to effectively run Hong Kong given their singular focus on business and profit. He was proved right.

  3. PropertyDeveloper says:

    In the good old days, there was a tradition of separating executive, advisory, research and pubiic information roles. But now it’s just like the phony phone surveys who, once they get their feet in the door, metaphorically speaking, seamlessly switch to selling. The nexus of slimy molluscs and slippery (city) slickers — youngish, with go-faster stripes and hair brylcreemed back — mix and match roles, bend with the wind and over, with not a shred of inetgrity or lucidity in sight.

  4. Big Al says:

    Off topic. On p4 of the subStandard is an ad for ANZ bank showing three smiling “Relationship Managers”. The rumour I heard was that originally there were five, but one is totally eclipsed by the person in the middle of the group, and one was eaten as a mid-morning snack by one of the three we can see. I’ll leave it to your powers of observation/deduction to work out which one.

  5. Maugrim says:

    It would appear that HK under the British had a ‘development’ mindset and a plan as to how HK could evolve and improve. Even if that meant Tsuen Wan and Sha Tin, but at least they, and the civil service had a mindset that HK could improve, or that rather, people’s living standards could improve. I’m not entirely sure what’s happened since then, more a WTF kind of direction it would seem. Sad really.

  6. arm bears says:

    It’s difficult to come up with anything that interests me less than what “Mary Ma” – the fictitious supposedly-female editor of the SubStandard – thinks about any given topic. One assumes “her” column is penned by real editor Ivan “Toady” Tong; real gender possibly male, but given that he chooses to write in drag, only his hairdresser knows for sure.

    However, we must admit that the lingerie model on the SubStandard’s cover today was infinitely more fetching than the metrosexual trash that Mr Lychee has been complaining about littering the Pro China Morning Post’s Style pages lately. And at least the SubStandard is priced exactly what it’s worth.

  7. Real Sex Player says:

    @ arm bears

    Glad that you have got your priorities correct !


    I agree with you about the tasteful front cover girl on today’s standard ( the page 3 advert was also in very good taste)

    This contrasted wierdly with the ad that appeared under the mary ma aka toady tong editorial when I clicked on Hemmer’s link above

    It was dating site for men looking for “mature UK ladies”, and there slap bang in the middle of the ad was a 50 + fat ugly English blond dressed in her undies ( sort of 19th century bathing suit style, but with frills) . I thought for a moment this a was joke by Hemmers to show what mary ma looks like, until I clicked again and found it was moving advert which changes every few minutes

    Mind you, if mary ma ( or toady tong when not in drag) really does look that awful it would explain a lot about the rubbish she writes

  8. stanley gibbons says:

    “It was dating site for men looking for “mature UK ladies”,”

    RSP – that is a google generated ad. It means you (or your computer) has recently been searching dating sites, or sites for mature english ladies or (*shudder*) both.

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