Do we smell a climbdown in the air?

Hong Kong’s biggest contribution to world news today is the continuation of billionaire Cecil Chao’s US$65 million quest for a man to straighten out his gay daughter. Aside from displaying to the planet the subtlety, sophistication and intellect of our visionary and respected business leaders, the story underlines the enlightened nature of our government, which is so sensitive to minorities’ feelings that it refuses a public debate on equal rights for gays because a few people in the city “worry that launching a consultation exercise may cause undesirable impact on family, religion and education.”

With consultations threatening undesirable impacts on the family and religion (and I always thought the exercises were a charade), officials aren’t going to change their minds in a hurry about that issue. But that might not be the case with the number-two story from the Big Lychee at the moment: the plan to implement the new Companies Ordinance, which reduces public access to corporate directors’ identity details.

This story has already been picked up in the Western media because journalists’ right to confirm directors’ identities through publicly available Hong Kong company records enabled Bloomberg and New York Times reporters to dig up the dirt about senior Chinese officials’ families extensive fortunes. Now it is getting another run following the appearance of a 1,768-signature petition in local newspapers.

Most reports overseas on this issue refer to the stories about the Chinese elite’s vast hidden wealth. They also tend to mention local concerns about Beijing’s increasing influence over local affairs. Their readers might conclude that the Hong Kong authorities are trying to change the law in order to protect the privacy of Mainland princelings who are laundering their billions here. In fact, it seems to be more the other way round. Few noticed the changed privacy rules when the new Companies Ordinance was passed last year; it’s only now, with amendments going through the Legislative Council, it has become a big story.

Although HK ID card numbers serve no password-type purposes, most people see them as personal and secret; the Privacy Commission, always on the alert for reasons to justify its existence, has encouraged paranoia about this. As if Hongkongers weren’t already touchy about privacy. Proposals long ago for a high-tech road pricing system failed at least partly because of fears that drivers’ whereabouts could be monitored by some sort of unnamed Gestapo (ie, their spouses). Many people regard banks’ pooling of individuals’ credit information as a vicious assault on inalienable human rights. Government officials who are directors of companies are themselves breaking the law right now by not putting their personal postal addresses on record.

The government would not usually lose sleep over local journalists’ objections to a new law. If overseas media join in with ‘Asia’s World City to cover up for corrupt businessmen’, they might start to worry a bit. Most of all, however, far more respectable if discreet parties also have a strong interest in maintaining current standards of disclosure. Financial services providers rely on access to directors’ details to authenticate identities. Is the Huang who was nailed for fraud a few years back the Wong who walked in the door today? It helps prevent things like… money laundering.

Look at it as another problem left by the Donald Tsang administration. I would rate the chances of a U-turn as higher than, say, the chances of a phone call from Cecil Chao.

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15 Responses to Do we smell a climbdown in the air?

  1. Bela Benevolent says:

    The iPhone is meant to propel its privileged users to new heights of efficiency and excellence but we witness yet another late update from you.

    Look at Nury – every day a fresh example of timeless prose, honed to perfection by the loving hands of sub-editors and appearing on time in the right place. If he can manage this in his busy media schedule, so can you.

    11 am please – as in the Blackberry days.

    The best way to prosper in the West is to become a religion. In Hong Kong, the best way is to become a charity. Charities in Hong Kong are completely unsupervised by the Government or a set of Charity Commissioners à la UK. You can pay yourself whatever salary you wish and collect money from wherever you want. You will never be audited or taxed.

    Get people talking about parallel trading and it covers up the cross-border money mules. Get them talking about directors’ identities and it covers up the Kai Fong Associations and Clansmen’s Clubs.

    Sorted!

  2. Stephen says:

    It’s been entertaining to have ole Cecil back in the headlines – How long it been since he dumped Terri Holliday and then revealed to all that they were not legally married afterall.

    As for the current hysteria about changes to the companies’ ordinance this is exactly the sort of thing that would not happen if you had some politicians / administrators, running governance in this town, whose first and seemingly only concern is appeasing the CCP. In the unlikely event that they thought of this proposal for very sound reasons – did they not see how this was likely to play out ?

    Thank goodness for the foreign media and I wonder if any of them would offer that nice Michael Chugani a job … ?

  3. Jason says:

    I’m surprised Cecil hasn’t called you already Hemlock – it sounds like the perfect marriage.

  4. Failed Alchemist says:

    The Duck’s one greatest stroke of the pen came in the form of changing the rules for Mainlanders to enter HK. Post-Sars, a short cut was taken but it opened a pandora’s box. Today’s problem with rising rents (including retail), property prices, the rise of enclaves catering to branded goods, crowded walking spaces, shortage of maternity beds, schooling places and milk powder stems from this policy including.. ahem more blantant money laundering.

    There was no check & balances put in place to tackle a predictable problem… us against them. 7 million vs the 1.3 billion.

    Dear James says in the SCMP that we should not discourage Mainland tourist. Apparently, he doesn’t understand his own reports & figures very well since many are trying to make guestimations on what percentage are parallel traders. This is where he goes awry. Why reject the traders when they contribute to the local economy? Answer: prices going up? But who open the flood gates for easy access to HK? Just like that stupid policy towards the sunset of the Duck… immigration officers to check on pregnant mothers… what, strip & search or feel the baby kicking? Try differentiating tourist from legitimate business opportunist. Maybe we should have a day in the life of an immigration officer or customs officer for James.

    In the 70’s leading up to the 90’s, HK only had to deal with dysfunctional families, husbands keeping mistresses in the mainland or marrying one to bring back to HK. Today, they are in our society by marriage, investment, born on HK soil, in our primary schools and universities by droves (like Lingnan) and professional sector.

    Therefore, CY, the Hong Kong people, those idiots (like….) have to learn how to accept and balance between the two. The doors have been open. Today’s borders are fluid or do what Tammy Tam said yesterday in SCMP, start where it first began – tougher visa controls.

    But James won’t like that…. so do HK a favour, step down when your term expiries and please, please don’t put another Liberal there.

  5. Groucho says:

    Bela, you are such a yawn.

  6. Outer says:

    Show us how it’s done Groucho. Stop being a sad sniping whingeing lurker Come out into the sunshine.

  7. Joe Blow says:

    whatever happened to little Terri anyway ? first she left HK to return to her hometown Miami, only to find out that over there she was just another brainless bimbo. Nobody was paying attention to her or her implants. Then she returned to the Big Lychee, modeled for a few lingerie calendars, and….nothing. No pictures in Tatler, no scandals, no high-profile boyfriends.

    Can anyone fill us in here ?

  8. pcrghllll says:

    The invasion of HK by mainlanders is akin to the invasion of this comments section by parallel commentators (no need to name them) and other undesirables. Hemlock should have seen this coming.

  9. Hendrick says:

    Cecil Chao claims to have slept with 10,000 women. Assuming only one encounter per woman and that he became sexually active at the age of 16, that’s approximately one every two days. Or, worryingly, half a woman every day. C’mon Cecil, which is it?

  10. pcrghllll says:

    I wonder who ‘Outer’ is. I got an immediate slapdown from “Sniper’ the other day when I dissed Bela. In both cases the implication is that you can’t criticise until you have come up with something ‘equally funny’. Errr….

  11. stanley gibbons says:

    Amerasian celebrity model Terri Holladay was born in Vietnam to a Vietnamese mother and American father. She has been based in Hong Kong for 22 years where she has enjoyed tremendous success as a celebrity model, spokesperson and entrepreneur. Her appearances at fashion shows and promotional launches are guaranteed large-scale attention and wide coverage.

    Since 2003 Terri has represented ‘Princess Household Appliances’ as their Asian Beauty Ambassador. Terri’s exotic Amerasian looks and extraordinary appeal put her in constant demand throughout Asia. As a result, she is one of the most photographed women in Asia.

    Terri was voted ‘One of Asia’s Most Beautiful Women’. She has been featured in numerous magazines and covers such as Elle, Vogue, Marie-Claire, Christian Dior, Gucci, Cartier, Lancome, Max Factor and La Perla.

    In contrast to her public life, Terri enjoys spending time with her son, family and friends. She is actively involved in the fields of health, fitness, beauty, fashion and cooking. published was Terri’s published her first ‘Asian Cooking Calendar’ for Princess. Also completed is an 8-episode cooking program for ‘Princess Household Appliances’ for ATV Hong Kong. Terri’s interviews and T.V. credits include CNN, BBC, ATV and TVB Hong Hong.

    Recently, she authored her first Culinary Newspaper by combining her love for traveling and food through her journey to Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. Coming soon is “Terri Holladay Beauty Forum” giving you the latest and best advice on Beauty and Health Products.

  12. Jeff says:

    Maugrim and others. Re my rant yesterday, No worries, I’ve been reading Hemmers for 7 years, with great amusement.

    And after all, he added my ranting post about him, that shows the good guy he is. I expected no less.

    Yes I should have bought. No cash however, I’m in the design profession, terrible pay levels.

    Am planning the bank robbery now, in order to catch the next trough with some spare cash.

    Cheers all

  13. Maugrim says:

    Jeff, no probs. This excerpt from Hemlock’s book may explain further:

    “As balanced as his tone may be, Hemlock makes no excuses for lambasting the act which economists call “rent-seeking” by “the tycoons operating the property cartel, who made the easiest and biggest money in town” and the government’s land system which “just puts it in their lap”.

    How Hong Kong’s ills stem from the land system can perhaps be summed up by these passages:-

    “The discretionary planning and land use powers enjoyed by bureaucrats combined with the huge fortunes to be made by real estate and construction companies create a substantial moral hazard, though the government would argue vociferously that stringent checks and balances are in place. Certainly, at a very fundamental level, the whole pattern of land supply and revenues, secretive planning, overspending on infrastructure, cartelization in the property development and construction sectors, and political representation for commercial interests can be described as institutionalized corruption. But there is no law against it.”

    “The property developers pass their costs on to consumers; thanks to government land policy, they are able to add a very handsome margin of their own. It is impossible to say exactly who is ultimately paying this hidden tax. Home mortgage payers and private sector renters are obviously contributing, but with costs being passed down throughout the community, it is likely that the revenue-from-land system creates a morass of hidden transfers and subsidies, many of which probably flow from the deserving to the less so. The economic concentration that results from this system deprives consumers of the benefits of competition and choice and almost certainly deprives smaller and innovative entrepreneurs and labour of opportunities.”

  14. Joe Blow says:

    Cecil is chums with Albert “the hoodlum” Yeung. Not many people know this.

  15. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    pcrghllll – I noticed the same. Someone is mashing their F5 button madly while dreaming up new pseudonyms.

    As the director of a Hong Kong holding company of a PRC business, I would have preferred not having to give me home address – more so to the company rather than the HK authorities. The chairman and I don’t see eye to eye at all and I’ve got a rather nice set of minority approval rights on my side of the table which I’m using to upset him a little. I fear one day I’ll find some nasty men turning up at my door to have a quiet word.

    That said, a determined person in the Chairman’s employ could just follow me home from work to find out where I live.

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