Fiscal terror versus elections alarm

Financial Secretary John Tsang’s panic-spreading task group, the Working Group on Long Term Fiscal Planning, releases its report today. The document, titled We Face Total and Utter Financial Annihilation Disaster Mayhem Calamity Right This Minute!, will be just the latest in a line of attempts to dupe us into giving the government more of our money.

Past examples, like proposals for health-care financing reform and for a sales tax, masqueraded as consultation exercises and were wheeled out by avuncular establishment worthies like Ronald Arculli. This will take the form of a supposedly authoritative statement of future trends in revenue and expenditure, but it will probably have similar glaring omissions and rely on highly questionable assumptions. We can also expect the usual condescending propaganda: serious-sounding radio announcements inviting us to study, digest and consider (ie, believe) the stuff, and maybe a TV commercial featuring Jackie Chan.

More than ever, it seems, the public will be skeptical. Tsang himself is even acknowledging this – a rare acceptance of reality that suggests that deep beneath the surface of Planet Government, tectonic plates are shifting. It will be interesting to observe how enthusiastically Chief Executive CY Leung supports Tsang’s contrived alarmism, to the extent we can detect anything behind the enigmatic wolf-like smile and cold gleam in the eyes.

One logical response to this report will be that, if its claims are true, Tsang by definition is guilty of extreme maladministration. A looming fiscal crisis will have been detectable for several years – the very same years in which the Financial Secretary squandered money right, left and centre (the HK$6,000 handout among other pointless giveaways, the HK$23 billion stadium at Kai Tak, etc, etc, etc). Indeed, he was warned about it in his own government’s consultation documents on health-care financing reform and a sales tax. Didn’t he read them? We can reasonably accuse Tsang himself of causing the approaching deficits.

Or we can just call him a liar. As countless commentators have been arguing, all you need to do is stop wasting money on stupid infrastructure projects, replace land premiums with recurrent real-estate taxes, freeze civil servants’ salaries/pensions for 200 years to bring them in line with the private sector, and bingo – you can afford all the health-care and welfare spending you need, provided you don’t do anything stupid like introduce universal entitlements. In other words, allocate the people’s wealth to the people, not to tycoons and bureaucrats, dummy.

If you want to convince people, it helps to have a single, clear message. Instead, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam chooses today to publish a more touchy-feely version of Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen’s recent plea to keep proposals for constitutional reform within the boundaries supposedly required by the Basic Law. This is a good example of the administration’s inability to grasp elementary communication skills. A more professional spin-service would at least plan a way to roll out John’s Tax BS separately from Carrie’s Elections BS. Instead, different bits of government are competing for our ever-so undivided attention.

While Rimsky resorted to legal jargon, Carrie appeals to our reasonableness in asking us to accept a small-circle, rigged Nomination Committee to put Chief Executive candidates on the ballot. See the matronly wringing of hands as she says, in essence, people shouldn’t object to what they call ‘screening’ because they aren’t defining what they mean by ‘screening’.

As such desperate quasi-arguments make clear, the consultation on political reform is a mask. The original promise was that Beijing would allow post-1997 Hong Kong to decide its own political system; the truth is that the Communist Party must have a way to control the outcome of an election, because that’s what ‘one-party state’ means. The Rimsky-Carrie Elections BS campaign is designed to fit reform within that reality without admitting it (this ridiculous and tedious pretense being necessary because, apparently, one-party states lose face by admitting they are one-party states).

What reality is the John Tsang Tax BS campaign designed to hide? Is it just incompetence and bureaucratic zombie-ism? Or does someone or something somewhere up there require our system to divert wealth into particular pockets, but can’t admit it?

Page C2 of today’s South China Morning Post has two items on whether Beijing will release details about political reform at the NPC/CPPCC meetings – left: Tam (Maria) says ‘no’; right: Tam (Tammy) says ‘yes’. One of them will be right, which is unusual.

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16 Responses to Fiscal terror versus elections alarm

  1. Sid says:

    Nice! Couldn’t have put it better myself!

  2. Chris Maden says:

    The one I liked was Tsang saying (in the SCMP article) “Some have expressed doubts about the findings of the taskforce. They wonder, for example, why the taskforce is overly pessimistic about the economy in the future.”

    The economy is in the hands of people like Tsang. How can one not be pessimistic…

  3. nulle says:

    surprising that the reporters protest isn’t reported on the HK mainstream media, perhaps the HK Govt have something to hide?

  4. Someone was standing beside the route of the anti-violence/pro-free-speech protest yesterday with a small banner urging pan-democrats (in Chinese) to “set aside their differences” to join in a consensus on political reform. Now there’s a master of political communication! it sounds so much nicer than “set aside their principles”, doesn’t it?

  5. Regislea says:

    Why is it that we can see the blindingly obvious solutions – and “they” can’t?

    It’s similar with the domestic helpers situation. The SCMP yesterday to its credit ran an article, with the hardline, “Shocking extent of maid abuse in Hong Kong laid bare” and the sub-head, “Marginalised by Hong Kong society and its laws, domestic helpers are left vulnerable to horrific abuse, writes Simon Parry, and a newly compiled body of research suggests the problem is far more extensive than has been previously reported.”

    But any sentient being who has been in Asia’s World City for more than few weeks knows i) that the abuse has been going on for years and ii) there is no “suggestion” that the problem is more extensive – it is endemic.

    And anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows the solution – end the 14-day rule and let helpers live out if they wish.

    What really pisses me off is that Simon Parry was researching this article five years ago – what took him so long?

  6. Grog says:

    A couple of weeks ago I recall reading a piece on the helpers issue in the SCMP where someone was saying if helpers were allowed to live out it would cause a massive price rise for that type of accommodation and put it out of their reach. I guess that would be in keeping with the grasping nature of landlords.

  7. Joe Blow says:

    …and let helpers live out if they wish.

    @Regis: the live-in rule guarantees that FDH have a room over their head at all times. Suppose the rule did not exist: soon, multitudes of employers would try to convince, or coerce, helpers to “live outside”. A major social problem in the making: some will end up in the street (I guarantee you) after breaking up with their NET teacher boy-friends, you get situations where a dozen live in a small apartment, not to mention the greedy landlords who will take advantage of them. The freedom of living outside will also seduce many of these girls to take up *hum* “outside employment”. Besides, how will they pay for accommodation on 4k a month ?

  8. Long Term Live Out Amah Employer says:

    Our domestic helper has been living out for as long as we ever employed her .

    It costs us on average HK$ 2,800 p.m. which is probably way over the tops and of course goes on top of her agency- regulated salary plus whatever Chinese New Year bonus we choose to pay her in cash .

    Why ? Two reasons

    a) Our teen-age son occupies the only spare bedroom

    b) Even if we had a spare amah-sized room we would not want our Amah to be chain-bound to our home 24/7 except for Sundays. She has the right to her own freedom outside “normal” working hours

    ‘Nuff said?

    The sooner the govt regulates live-out Amahs and licenses their
    split-live-out- apartments the better. Otherwise it’s another disaster -in-the-making until there’s a huge fire in a shared- Amah -live-out – apartment or some other catastrophe

  9. Regislea says:

    @Joe – there’s a lot to what you say, although the implication that helpers are putative prostitutes just waiting for the opportunity is perhaps a little unkind.

    As is the allegation that they have NET boyfriends – where did you get that one from? Wander round Central or Victoria Park on a Sunday – why are they all there if they have NET boyfriends catering to their every whim?

    Obviously living out would need to be compensated in just the same way that helpers not fed by their employers are given a meal allowance – yeah right!

    My view is that most helpers would not want to live out as long as they are fairly treated. The problem with living in is that, if they are badly treated, their opportunity for recourse is very limited.

    Maybe it would be a major social problem in the making, but we already have that – it’s just not acknowledged.

    Which would you prefer – the certainly of concealed abuse or the possibility of a minor housing problem?

  10. Regislea says:

    LTLOAE – you are one of the very few good guys!

    The only problem is i) what you are doing is illegal and ii) you must have fudged the contract, and iii) if your helper gets caught, she’s on the next plane.

  11. probably says:

    Slightry off today’s main theme but given the stabbings in KunMing yesterday does that now mean the PRC will be subject to a BLACK travel warning?

  12. Sid says:

    Regislea,

    LTLOAE is not illegal — unless he employed the maid les than x (maybe 8 or 9) years ago AND she is not Chinese.

    Although I’ve got plenty of spare rooms, I’d still much prefer my maid to live out, for greater privacy for myself and in the belief she would work harder if it was an 8 or 9-hour day rather than being potentially on call at all hours.

  13. Regislea says:

    Sid – fair point – I was trying to keep it simple. Certainly no-one should ge the idea that “living out” is a no problem decision.

    As to your second point, I totally agree. When I was rich and famous and had a huge (company) flat, we had a helper who was fantastic and was able to retreat whenever she wanted to.

    But in a standard flat, no way!

    Which brings me to another point: how come people with four in the family in a say, 700 sq. ft. flat. can fool Immigration into thinking that the FDH will have her own room?

  14. Long Term Live Out Amah Employer says:

    @ Sid and Regislea :

    Thanks for the feedback ( and empathy)

    I’m just about to renew our Amah’s contract . And yes I will fudge the live-out bit with her agent, who seems a pretty decent sort of person / certainly not the exploitative kind of agent. In fact the agent is complicit in the live-out arrangement because she knows our domestic arrangements, and how well we treat our Amah.

    Our Amah is from Indonesia. A devout Muslim (although not the head-dress- wearing super devout kind , but she does go to her local Temple every Sunday morning ) . She is scrupulously honest regarding domestic money – handling : probably would beat many a “Christian” Filipina Amahs on that score I would bet .

    But fact is : our 600 net sq ft flat only has two small bedrooms and our son is 18 YO . Can he share with an Amah ?! So how in the *&%$ can we house an Amah even if we wanted to do so ? (Yes, technically we could have re- built the flat to include an Amah ‘kennel’ but that would have been both crazy and humiliating)

    So the live-out option is THE only option. Fact.

    Our Amah clocks in at about 10.00 AM and clocks out at about 21.00 PM after the dinner washing is done. That’s an 11.00 hour day during which she works pretty much non-stop, although I must admit not full- stops, because I often find residual deep cleaning she has not done thoroughly due to habit.

    But fact is, the live-out option is often a necessity for families with grown-up kids in a small flat.

    So the sooner the government recognizes and legalizes it the better

  15. nulle says:

    @ probably,
    highly unlikely BLACK travel warning given it is KunMing. I found it amazingly everytime stuff happens either the Urguhrs or Tibetans are blamed. why don’t they look upon themselves?

    @ all,
    I find it even worse that the stabbing of Mr. Lau (Mingpao editor) and Albert Ho will never get solved given (a) HK Police won’t/can’t do anything (incompetence) and (b) Police in the mainland only gets investigates when CCP pressures them to do so.

  16. @Regislea – do you think Immigration really care? The appearance of legality is all they are concerned with, not the reality behind it.

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