Christmas is most Hongkongers’ favourite festival, because you don’t have to visit older relatives or do any of that other tedious family stuff; young people especially welcome the opportunity to ignore filial piety and enjoy themselves for once. Needless to say, this does not go down well with educators of vulnerable and innocent youth, worshippers of vengeful deities and enforcers of the law. Nothing fills them with alarm and dread so much as the idea that somewhere out there, young people might be having fun. So, it’s that time of the year again: the police roll out their annual Crazed Dope Fiends Freaking Out on Extreme Excitement alert, which this year manages to be even less convincing than usual…
Entering into the hallucinatory yuletide spirit, one-time government minister Fred Ma has visions of former Financial Secretary Antony Leung becoming the Big Lychee’s next Chief Executive, and indeed being good at the job. Other possible candidates range from the scarily intriguing (DAB stalwart Tsang Yok-sing) to the depressingly predictable (Chief Secretary Carrie Lam) to the scarily depressing (ex-Security Secretary Regina Ip). Anyone fearing Leung as a potential rival would be advised to track down the photo of him pretending, with visible distaste, to help sweep the street in his Gucci loafers sometime around the SARS crisis – that should knock a few points off his ratings (the South China Morning Post’s straw poll says 82% think he has no chance.)
If you would have to be nuts to want to be Chief Executive of Hong Kong, you would need to be pretty deranged to want the job of the office’s Information Coordinator. The SCMP puts the spotlight on the new one, former Democratic Party member Andrew Fung. The overall impression, for those of us who have never paid him much attention, is of a man rather obviously on the make, from 80s’ student union leader to DP founding member, to PR company start-up, to ‘Middle Class [non-]Force’ founder – trying and eventually succeeding to win a seat on Southern District Council and then to join, in any capacity, the administration of CY Leung.
Former colleagues in the pro-dem camp initially expressed mock-alarm, fearing for the administration’s well-being given Fung’s lack of credentials. They view him as a traitor for dirtying his hands by joining the establishment, though a sympathizer of his could ask what they have accomplished lately beyond their eternal and fruitless opposition to everything.
The SCMP isn’t sure what the HK$175,000-a-month job entails but notes that Fung’s predecessors have served as spokesmen or ‘spin doctors’. The government itself says the position’s responsibilities involve “…formulating … co-ordinating … liaising … monitoring … and helping …” The fact is that the role is based on the premise, passed down through generations of colonial bureaucrats, that the people are essentially dimwitted and have no clue as to what is best for them, and must have everything explained carefully and simply as if they were five-year-olds. If people oppose policy, it is their fault for being too stupid to see how good it is; the Information Coordinator’s job is to explain this to them. Under Tung Chee-hwa in particular, “We must communicate better,” was the constant and only expression of official remorse; the only thing the government could possibly get wrong was the presentation.
But of course that is not the case. The policies are crap. Not just a few of them, a bit, but – for the bulk of the population on the receiving end – unremitting, serious crap. Andrew Fung’s mission is to package manure and try to sell it as sugar. As a relative underling he will probably have little chance to reject, let alone improve, policy secretaries’ amateurish ‘Lines to Take’, the bullet points of child-like wishful thinking that so dazzlingly fail to convince public opinion (consider the official excuses for the HKTV licensing screw-up, or National Education, or etc, etc, etc). And, for 175 grand a month, why make a fuss?
His role will not be to suggest that they start producing sugar for a change. He will not suggest that it is the policies themselves that are creating public discontent. He will not dispute behind closed doors the claim that the benefits of 50 million tourists a year outweigh the costs, or that government spending priorities reflect prudence, or that officials are seriously committed to reducing air pollution. Instead, he will stand outside the door and insist to us that these things are all true.