CY’s policy priority: remain friendless

Out of duty and habit, Hong Kong’s chattering classes pick over the 2014 Policy Address. Some people calling themselves the middle class apparently burst into tears like big cry-babies because they don’t get mentioned, let alone any handouts.

More seriously, there’s the HK$3 billion subsidy for the working poor. On the one hand it’s just a Band-Aid; on the other hand it’s more than anything CY Leung’s predecessors could be bothered to do. You could say this for lots of these measures; intensive language teaching for ‘ethnic minorities’, for example, and broader transport subsidies for the disadvantaged, and above-inflation hikes in kindergarten and elderly healthcare vouchers. After Donald Tsang’s policy of ‘Screw everyone except civil servants and my tycoon buddies’, this is at least visibly different.

Two interesting points come from the South China Morning Post. First, CY omitted any mention of labour importation. The policy address is more about PR than full disclosure, so it could be that officials are just hiding plans to ship a million Bangladeshi half-slaves into town. But the way CY’s other policies at least slightly deviate from the previous administration’s pro-plutocrat approach suggests that the old-guard establishment ‘business community’ are right to hate him.

Is low pay a drag on overall prosperity or a stimulus to economic growth? Sir Bow-Tie and his cohorts were in no doubt as to the answer. The tycoons artificially suppress competition among themselves, but they certainly want to stimulate it among people looking for employment. CY may take a different (and economically/intellectually/morally consistent) view: scarcity of cheap labour should equal higher wages for the lower-paid, which equals a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor.

Second, in embarking on a ‘home-building binge’, CY could go down in history as the first man to cause not one but two massive property market crashes in Hong Kong.  The tortuously long time-lag between finding sites on which to plan housing and handing over keys to occupiers could render all this meaningless. It could be that the higher plot ratios, let alone the mysterious ‘East Lantau Metropolis’, won’t happen. Interest rates, a Mainland downturn, a shift in migration patterns, invasion from outer space – anything could happen to bring property prices down in the intervening years. As CY, of all people, knows full well.

(As an aside, a quick trivia quiz: Where in Hong Kong can you buy a 600-sq-ft apartment for less than HK$1,000 (yes, a thousand bucks) per square foot and a 1,200-sq-ft flat for around HK$2-2.5 million? In other words, for something roughly like 10% to 30% of what you would pay nearly anywhere else in town? Not a trick question. Answer below.)

The Policy Address remains, as ever, a work by and for sufferers of bathophobia (a fear, as we all of course know, of things deep). We are left with no clue as to where Hong Kong is headed, or who or what the city is actually for. If you put a mammal into a cage that is too small, it goes mad and ends up repeating the same inane behavior endlessly. Our policymakers are like that: cram more tourists in; act surprised when a lack of space reduces most people’s economic opportunities; attempt to rectify by cramming even more tourists in; repeat over and over.

Luckily, as perhaps with housing, the economic cycle or outbreaks of disease and riots will stop this cycle at some point (the artificial arbitrage gap between Mainland and Hong Kong retail markets will sort itself out one day, say when China cuts import taxes). Meanwhile, CY announces a visionary new Megalopolis on reclaimed land off East Lantau. Certain landed/tourism interests are pushing this for obvious reasons, with support from bureaucrats trying to find someone to use the white-elephant bridge to Zhuhai when it opens. To start the reclamation, the South China Morning Post dredges up an unnamed ‘real estate advisor’, whatever that is, who opines that the project ‘could house outlet malls’. Sure – it could house 100-ft statues of Chairman Mao carved out of dried dingo droppings if you want. It all sounds a bit not-going-to-happen-and-he-knows-it.

Answer to exciting trivia quiz: ideal for commuters who like a challenge, or for extreme recluses and people wanted by the police – and there are (predictably) some costs in terms of management fees and inconveniences in terms of shopping – but here’s perhaps the cheapest private housing in Hong Kong. Even the parking-space speculators haven’t been temped.

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19 Responses to CY’s policy priority: remain friendless

  1. maugrim says:

    Chatting this morning with a friend who knows, firstly, the whole non-Chinese language help thing is a scam. CY mumbled ‘for the next two years’ and worse, there’s no mention of an actual curriculum being developed. Heaven forbid our civil service in this case, the EDB, might be able to put pen to paper. You can spend money on teaching Chinese, which, has taken the Government since 1997 to work out that minorities may need it, however, there is no concrete benchmark students can achieve that will be of any real use or be recognised by employers, universities etc, which should be a point of the policy in the first place.

    BTW, ‘sea ranch’? sounds either like some sort of HK pizza topping or someone selling tidal flats at Tung Chung.

  2. Ex Tax Payer says:

    Hemmers – you must stop writing these intelligent and interesting analyses. You are beginning to sound like Tom Holland and Jake.

  3. pcccrrrhll says:

    Ah, Sea Ranch! – I thought it looked like a Bond Villain’s lair as I whizzed past it on the Macau ferry. Then I saw some pics of the interiors. Here’s Time Out’s opinion:

    Visiting Sea Ranch today feels like visiting Discovery Bay after a direct hit from a neutron bomb. The southwest Lantau ghost town is shabby, crumbling, and crushingly depressing to visit, but one feels it would make a good horror movie set. The developer went bust in the 1980s and legal proceedings rumbled on for years. There are residents, apparently, but we couldn’t see any on a recent visit. Sea Ranch is totally private, meaning only residents and their guests are allowed to visit. You’re certainly made to feel like a trespasser every second you’re here “unofficially”.

    Mention the settlement to Hong Kong property agents and you’ll get a quizzical “Where?” in response, but, for those who hanker for a film noir-like dirty weekend, a few Cheung Chau agents do have properties for short-term rentals. Bring your own everything – there’s only one retail outlet of any sort here: a soft drink stand at the security post that stands on Sea Ranch’s tiny pier.

    Cheung Chau Island is the gateway to Sea Ranch, and wallah wallahs (small boats) can be hired for $30-$80 each way. This trip takes about 25 minutes. There’s also a scheduled “ferry” service that departs daily from Cheung Chau from a small pier to the left of the main pier. This vessel is a white and blue motor launch and leaves at about 7am each day.

  4. Ex Tax Payer says:

    Oh – you forgot to mention Alex Lo’s column today.

    It was somewhat sour grapes ( he being a middle class man) but he rose the occasion with a but of humor in his last paragraph :

    “On a positive note, the first highlight – I am not making this up – in the address’ health care section is a new subsidy for “colorectal cancer screening for higher risk groups”. You get a subsidised probe up your posterior. Never say Leung is not taking care of you.”

  5. reductio says:

    Latest in: The HKSAR government has announced new plans to join NASA in its quest to explore space. In yesterday’s CE’s Address, CY Leung indicated that probes will be sent to Uranus.

  6. Ex Tax Payer says:

    @ reductio

    Priceless ! 🙂

    (But … just a figure of speech … I note that NASA has taken to calling the arsehole of the solar system Your – An – Us ( sort of like Park-n-Shop only different)

    Trivia question : what is the meaning of the German word “Rundfahrt”?
    Answer : “Like a smoke ring only different”

  7. Dawei says:

    Nice to see people continually recycling that crap from Time Out. Oups we at Sea Ranch like our property cheap so yes it is as was described in the Time Out article plus we also have large pythons that eat small dogs, vampires (the ones that jump), ghosts, and republicans, and there is actually no road so QED no car park speculators or shops. No one knows their neighbors in this community and we do not pop round to there house for a chat ever or even know their names unlike Mid Levels where everyone is on first name terms.

    Everyone hates living there it is deeply depressing waking up in the morning to the gentle rays of pure sunlight streaming through the almost unpolluted air and the sound of the waves beating out time on the beach. The stroll down to the ferry is just ghastly with the views across the unspoilt hills and sea out towards Cheung Chau.

    I would not recommend living there ever and would recommend spending 5 times the amount on a shoe box with an air con view and direct plumed vehicle exhaust pipe.

  8. Dr Doo-me-a-little says:

    I visited Sea Ranch about 20 years ago on a junk trip. My then-boss owned an apartment there.

    It is as Dawei said: there is nothing there. Like, nothing……..(although, apparently, they do have internet).

  9. It’s not so much not getting any handouts that the middle class resents, as having to pay for everyone else’s, since the tycoons are certainly not pulling their weight tax-wise.

  10. Failed Alchemist says:

    Your sentence “repeat over & over” send a sudden chill down the spine. It was like sitting through the movie “Inception” with hoards of mainland actors where the director is Charles Li of “one country, one system”.

    TG at least for CY but lets hope in the next two years, he can prove Charlie wrong since Charlie’s 2020 prophecy is 3 years after the pan-democrats annihilate themselves and us along with them.

    Charlie’s movie to watch: “The Wolves of Hong Kong” or “Alibaba & the 10 things still left undone” Hahahaha

  11. Ex Tax Payer says:

    Hemmers : seems even when you write the most sober, sensible, well-researched stuff there is still a lot to laugh about.

    That’s great news on a cold January day

    PS: @ Da Wei Dr Do-little etc : last time I visited Sea Ranch by boat was 30 years ago when there was actually a restaurant occasionally serving dirt-cheap food to stay in existence. But even then the whole place looked like it had been nuked or had been visited by the bubonic plague. Not a single soul alive. Since then I have only ever passed the place by on the coastal path while trekking (Note : Octopus card not accepted on the Lantau trail)

  12. reductio says:

    @Ex Tax Payer

    Sea Ranch: so lonely even the local villagers can’t be bothered to block access to the trail.

  13. Oneleggoalie says:

    Sea Ranch would be ideal th house all the old expats who have become ghosts…

    …the English would run the kitchen…
    …the Italians in administration…
    …the Germans would police…
    …Greeks do banking…
    …Americans in religion…
    …and the Jews would play in the orchestra…


  14. Probably says:

    Hemmers, shame on you for missing one, albeit minor, point of one of the handouts. Whilst briefly touch on “broader transport subsidies for the disadvantaged” this is in fact an underhand means of giving the dubious owners of GMB’s free government cash.

    With the $2 fare level set for OAP’s, all any unscrupulous owner who has a route where the fare is greater than $4 has to do is get an OAP’s octopus card to register the fare and hey presto! a sum of greater than the original $2 “stake” is gifted to them by the government.

    With this sort of policy I’m looking forward in the not too distant future to be told of governemnt statistics proclaiming massive uptake and increased ridership of GMB routes by the “disadvantaged” as a policy success.

  15. Probably says:

    Hemmers, shame on you for missing one, albeit minor, point of one of the handouts. Whilst briefly touching on “broader transport subsidies for the disadvantaged” this is in fact an underhand means of giving the dubious owners of GMB’s free government cash.

    With the $2 fare level set for OAP’s, all any unscrupulous owner who has a route where the fare is greater than $4 has to do is obtain an OAP’s octopus card to register the fare and, hey presto! a sum of greater than the original $2 “stake” is gifted to them by the government.

    With this sort of policy I’m looking forward in the not too distant future to being told of governemnt statistics proclaiming massive uptake and increased ridership of GMB routes by the “disadvantaged” as a policy success.

  16. Ex Tax Payer says:

    @ Probably

    As one who recently passed the magic retirement age of 65 (thus no more tax to pay ) and who therefore qualified for the golden OAP Octopus card (all the way from Junk Bay to Tung Chung for just $2!) there’s a slight catch which Octopus has already thought of.

    Whereas any normal (i.e. sub-OAP) Octopus card creates a sort of low frequency POOP when scanned on the MTR, buses, trams etc, the OAP version emits a high frequency SQUEAK , which frankly speaking is very humiliating for those of us who try to look and behave less aged than we actually are.

    Thus many of us male wannabe -young- again OAPs now carry two Octopus cards :

    1. The OAP version for when no-one is looking (and/or when we are scint)

    2. The normal version for when we are travelling with our young girl-friend ….

    … or when pretending that one has not recently had a free colon-oscopy courtesy of CY , and thus POOPing at a higher frequency for the following few weeks.

    PS: Whoever said that one could not enjoy a few jokes at the expense of a CY annual policy address ? Hemmers really missed the plot today !

  17. Joe Blow says:

    Ex Tax Bore: the last time you traveled with a young girlfriend was in 1971 (remember Maureen, the plump English nurse who worked at Mathilda’s ?).

    Get over it.

  18. I remember reading an article about the decline of Sea Ranch about 20 years ago. From what the reporter wrote, at that time it was full of drunken teenage delinquents peeing in the pool. Now it seems even they have deserted the place.

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