The curate’s egg

Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung’s maiden policy address, with the focus on housing. Democratic Party leader Emily Lau’s immediate reaction yesterday was to do her apoplectic freak-out act, but by this morning she had calmed down enough to grudgingly concede on the radio that maybe the plans to reduce air pollution and increase the supply of homes were not totally abhorrent. Still, she grumbled, the CE utterly failed to announce any plans to deport Beijing’s local Liaison Office’s entire staff or introduce universal suffrage next week, so on balance it was awful.

It depends on whether you are a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full person. If you want serious Thatcherite radical reform, you can’t help but be dismayed. CY did hint at edginess when he said he might be willing to do things even though – gasp – there wasn’t a complete consensus, which prompted a critical question from a Western reporter who is presumably a big fan of harmony. But threats to crush the Heung Yee Kuk, promises to bury the property cartel and warnings to stamp on Nimby-ist neighbourhoods opposing public housing projects and columbaria there were none. Unfortunately. But that of course is how Beijing wants it, let alone how our dysfunctional political structure requires it.

On the brighter side, the policy address was a departure from the flaccid and vacuous junk we had to endure under CY’s predecessor, Donald Tsang. Sir Bow-Tie refused to believe that air pollution was a problem, or indeed even existed, let alone allow a dollop of the government’s vast hoard of wealth be used to phase out old dirty vehicles. As for housing, the last administration was basically against it in principle, unless it cost over HK$15 million and was sold to Mainlanders at a big profit for Donald’s property cartel buddies.

Although they never precisely spelt it out, Donald Tsang and his tycoon-bureaucrat establishment adhered to a traditional colonial, not to say Dickensian, philosophy towards slums and their inhabitants. People shouldn’t have come to live here if they couldn’t afford it, and if they live in illegal and dangerous conditions, the obvious solution is eviction.

CY talked about substandard housing, and described seeing it in person. Long Hair Leung Kwok-heung chose this moment in the address, just when CY came closest to showing some sort of emotion, to create a fuss and get thrown out of the Legislative Council chamber. Or at least that’s how it appeared. Those of us with nasty, sordid little minds might wonder whether Long Hair fell into a trap here. It was CY-supporting lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok who chose the moment to snitch on the Trotskyist radical for being noisy, enabling CY to rewind the tape on his speech and repeat the tragic, heart-rending bits about the kid in Shamshuipo sleeping in a box hanging from the ceiling. Either way, Long Hair didn’t come out of it looking especially good.

The last government perversely kept land supply tight, as if delivering higher and higher profit margins to developers was all that mattered. (In fairness, some of them might have realized that they had overdone it but then got spooked by the prospect of triggering a market crash.)

CY listed a lengthy array of sites and possible sites, including something called ‘artificial islands’, on which hundreds and hundreds of hectares of land could be devoted to building a low six-figure number of new homes over a timeframe that people under 40 might even live to see. The word that springs to mind is ‘notional’. Even for a Monaco-type refuge for hot dirty money at a time of negative real interest rates, Hong Kong’s property prices look really stupid. When the crash comes, the private-sector part of the problem will to some extent fix itself, what with 200,000 apartments sitting empty and all that. In practice, much of the new development will probably be various forms of social housing. Interestingly, with a Margaret Thatcher-style gleam in his eye, CY hinted at getting tough on people who sublet or otherwise abuse public housing privileges – an area where previous administrations haven’t dared to tread.

The health care and elderly welfare proposals were in a similar vein: timid if you want big change and a universal pension right now, but serious-if-prudent compared with anything Sir Bow-Tie (or presumably Henry Tang) would have produced. The blather about CEPA and Pearl River Delta cooperation/partnership/blah blah was the usual stuff. CY’s decision to establish committees and councils for various things, including financial services development, looked lame, as if someone said “this is a policy address – you have to set up new councils.” Donald Tsang created new committees every day, purely so he could appoint shoe-shiners to them as some sort of badge of honour (and gratuitously not appoint detractors, so they would go off into a corner to cry and feel miserable). Pan-dems sneered that CY, too, would pack these new bodies with his friends. They forget that he doesn’t have any. The policy address won’t change that, but it wasn’t supposed to. At worst, in five years’ time we should at least be able to breathe the air – and when could we last say that?

 

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23 Responses to The curate’s egg

  1. Bela Trotsky says:

    I loved the Policy Address. It really powdered my dumpling. Some people are never satisfied however…

    Leung Kwok-hung addresses the People’s Front For The Liberation Of Hong Kong :

    “All right. Apart from cracking down on cross-border hawkers, abolishing compulsory national education, indefinitely postponing contentious national security legislation, clamping down on abuse of health care facilities, persecuting property speculators, removing a key source of air pollution, promising Kindergartens for all children regardless of income or background and building thousands of affordable rented flats for ordinary people…

    …what has CY Leung EVER done for us?”

    http://youtu.be/ExWfh6sGyso

  2. colonelkurtz says:

    I’m still waiting after 15 years in HK to hear the words “micro-economic reform” in just one policy address. Obviously, all’s perfect in HK’s world and all we need is spending programs. The only thing that ever came close was the Competition Ordinance, that’s yet to take effect and was already heavily watered down. At least there’s no bread and circuses in this one as there was last year.

  3. Old Timer says:

    “Serve the People … ” Nice bit of Party-speak there.

  4. Walter De Havilland says:

    The likes of Emily LAU and LEUNG Kwok-hung performed as expected yesterday. The same routine we have seen time and time again … boring. If CY makes progress on tackling air pollution he gets my vote. The other stuff will take longer to resolve. Remember the secret to happiness is low expectations.

  5. Mary Hinge says:

    @ Bela:
    “Apart from cracking down on cross-border hawkers …”
    [Only after weeks of inaction and intense standoffs and fracas with locals. And it is still going on.]

    “abolishing compulsory national education,”
    [Only after tens of thousands wore black outside his office for a few weeks. And he has not abolished it. He gave the choice to schools (offering them financial sweeteners in the process).]

    “indefinitely postponing contentious national security legislation,”
    [Erm. Not indefinitely, surely; it’s in the Basic Law. And what has he done that Idiot 1 and Idiot 2 had not already done here?]

    “clamping down on abuse of health care facilities,”
    [OK,but this still goes on]

    “persecuting property speculators,”
    [And stopping any non-PR who honestly lives and pays tax here from buying property.]

    “removing a key source of air pollution”
    [He hasn’t done it yet. And, even if he does, we might be surprised how little difference it makes, given the ambient pollution from the Pearl River Delta.]

    “promising Kindergartens for all children regardless of income or background”
    [Yay!]

    “and building thousands of affordable rented flats for ordinary people…”
    [And turning HK into a reclaimed concrete jungle in the process]

    “what has CY Leung EVER done for us?”
    [Nothing].

    CY is NOT the messiah.
    He is, however, a very naughty boy.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=af9EHtQMMc4

  6. Failed Alchemist says:

    The Democrats are quickly slipping into irrelevancy like the Liberals. Hearing darling Emily on several interviews recently, its the same old gramaphone – the “savagers” “viciously” attacking us. Someone needs to grow up becos that is what politics is all about. There is a serious disconnect between them & with the ppl of HK and the political environ we live in today.

    On the other hand, Sir Ducky had only one motto – we don’t start anything unless is starts with the word “billions” or cost going up by millions “every minute” Surely he didn’t like the DAB but had to play pretend and he abhorred the pan-demo leaving only loving the Liberals & their blue eye boy. We are shock to read that the Kai Tak cruise terminal management is only now talking to cruise operators. Shouldn’t they have courted them when the project was on the table? This will be forever Sir Duck’s legacy – a eternal love with the Liberals, their dream to build, build and build more & their ilks.

    So after yesterday… CY stands at a cross road between the twain… the impotent LEGCO and those who will even sell their ……

    One suggestion on housing – move present public residents of older projects into the new homes, demolish the 6-10 story flats like in Shatin, Cheung Sha Wan etc and build newer high rise… Its the way to go.

  7. Hugh Chiverton says:

    If I may be permitted to advertise; there is a phone-in with CY Leung tomorrow morning on RTHK Radio 3.

    Call 23388266 or email [email protected] between 8 and 9am to put your questions and comments, naughty or nice.

  8. Maugrim says:

    I think C.Y. is a liar, however, anyone even remotely willing to tackle problems such as housing and pollution , deserves our collective support and encouragement. As pigs may fly, I’d also love to see real anti-competition legislation enacted.

  9. Bela Bulemic says:

    Hugh

    Will RTHK Radio 3’s Head be licking Leung’s ass in the same way as he was to Donald and igrovellingly inviting him out to lunch on air as he did Donald? I nearly threw up when I heard him. If so, count me out.

  10. Property Developer says:

    OT, The one I can’t understand is “Maintain Stability”. Does it mean hang onto power come what may? Or let a dark-skinned child run across the only piece of grass in HK? Or cancel point 1? Or send the police and ICAC across the border if things get slightly iffy?

    We have a right to know.

    Breathable air? I’ll believe it when I can see it.

  11. Stephen says:

    I’ll give it six out of ten. He’s got a handle on the two main issues – housing and the environment but I was looking for something a little more radical.

    Buy the EHT & WHT outright! A date (soonest) when all non-Euro V diesel vehicles will be banned. Is the lands department is going to continue auctioning off large plots at a high reserve price? Because if they are I can’t see a ‘decent’ property market correction happening no matter how many plots he puts on the market.

    Did I miss the part about political reform?

  12. Mary Hinge says:

    @ Stephen. WHT was built and is run by the tunnel company under a BOT (build/operate/transfer) model. It still has c.10 years to run until the transfer back to HKSARG. Likely that massive money would needed to buy out of that arrangement now.

    Much better to put central tunnel tolls up to the same sort of level as WHT and EHT. Might, as a beneficial side-effect, keep traffic levels down across all three of them overall (pollution). CY should double the central tunnel tolls now, and let the vested interests sqawk all they like.

  13. Chris Maden says:

    @Property Developer

    “Maintain Stability” = stasis. They told us no change for 50 years, and they meant it.

  14. It would be interested if they tried a creative answer to the tunnel problem.

    The cross-harbor tunnel could be designated the only allowable route from Kowloon to Hong Kong.

    The other two, under-used tunnels, could be the only allowable route from Hong Kong to Kowloon.

    Since both tracks of each tunnel would be used only in one direction, traffic would be thinner and the general flow would be faster.

    You’d have to do a bit of re-routing of roads, but that wouldn’t be difficult.

    Also, you’d only charge in one direction, so the number of stops at toll gates would drop in half….

    Anyway, this solution can only be tried now, before the under-used tunnels become popular.

    But it would need a risk-taking mentality, so I can’t see the govt doing it… sigh…

  15. Chimp says:

    Mary Hinge, I hear where you’re coming from on the ‘very naughty boy’ comment, but does it matter? Diddling interns with a cigar, drinking Lafite with his buddies on mega yachts… all of that is forgiveable (and to me, irrelevant).

    No, he’s not the messiah. At least he is, so far, addressing actual livelihood issues, particularly those related to poverty.

    Of course, we could focus on the really important stuff, like trellises.

  16. Malteser says:

    Sorry to hear about your undersized tunnels, Nury.

    Could we reroute your daily Standard piece to the back page?

  17. Big Al says:

    I recokon Nury’s tunnel idea is a good one, with one small change. Make all three tunnels Hong Kong to Kowloon only. That way, after a short time, there will be no more vehicles left on Hong Kong Island, the air quality will improve considerably and all the roads will soon be colonised by vegetation leading to a huge increase in green-ness, which will make everyone happy. Anyone who wants to travel to or from the Dark Side can use the ferry of the train (or a helicopter if they’re rich, as long as they avoid tower cranes) …

  18. Walter De Havilland says:

    Just heard of another helicopter crash! Apparently a 2 man helicopter crashed on the central Dublin cemetery this morning. So far the Garda have recovered 230 bodies at the scene.

  19. Real Tax Payer says:

    I am just happy that something will be done about air pollution, considering BJ’s smog

    (I’m into this pollution thing professionally so I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to PM2.5 etc )

    The housing thing is icing on the cake – but badly needed icing
    (However – do read Tom Holland in the SMP today on this! Tom has huge brain between his ever-listening ears )

    I vote 7/10 going on for 8/10 for CY’s address

    Go it CY ! You’s the Man
    _______________________________________

    PS : @ Nury – is that the REAL Nury Vitacchi of Mr Jam fame ? If so : Love Ya ! I chuckle every day when I get your column on line, because you teach me not to take myself so seriously 🙂

    Your tunnel idea is a brilliant suggestion . But it’s far too common-sense to ever get a green light

  20. @Big Al: I LOVE your comment, may I quote it please?

    @ Real Taxpayer–am I the real Nury Vittachi? Naaah, there’s thousands of people with that name in Hong Kong…
    Thanks for the compliment but on China visa forms I write my job as “typist”–all my best snippets come from other people (as Big Al has just demonstrated)

    @Malteser–I don’t actually work at the Standard, my columns get syndicated, so I have no control over how/ where they get printed. Most of my readers are overseas, which also explains why I hardly ever mention Hong Kong in my cols.

    I’m happy to leave the HK beat to Big Lychee and Hemlock and their gang, who do a great job.

  21. Malteser says:

    Aaaaaaaaaarrrrregghhhhhh

    Even as a joke, this Nury imitation is not funny.

    Ban Nury and Nury imitators pllllllleassssee!!!!!!

  22. Big Al says:

    @Nury – of course!

  23. Property Developer says “Breathable air? I’ll believe it when I can see it.” Shouldn’t that be “when I can’t see it”?

    And by the way, when did Long Hair ever come out of anything looking good?

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