No break from mouth-frothing

We take a break from the Great 2017 Semi-Universal Suffrage Fake-Consultation Controversy of 2014, while Beijing pretends to prepare a (written long-ago) decision on Hong Kong political reform to be handed down by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

While we’re waiting, one of our elderly property tycoons entertains us with a classic example of pro-Beijing shoe-shining backfiring horribly. Towngas, part of Lee Shau-kee’s Henderson Land empire, hastily abandons an attempt to pressure employees into signing anti-Occupy Central petitions. Apparently, some of the beastly staff scribbled rude comments on the forms that were handed out. You need to leave this sort of thing to subsidiaries of CITIC and Bank of China, where managements seem to have far more effective methods of mobilizing United Front volunteers at short notice. Our home-grown amateurs never learn: those who live by the shoe-shine die by the shoe-shine.

Otherwise, could it be that Hong Kong has suddenly entered one of those rare occasions when there is nothing to froth at the mouth about? Perhaps not – we do have the premature departure of MTR chief executive Jay Walder.

It’s a bit difficult to work out exactly why we’re supposed to be lynching the guy – though in view of his hefty remuneration, it’s fair to say we’re not greatly fussed. Men with yellow hard hats and clipboards blame delays in rail projects on subsoil and rocks and technical engineering blather. Politicians rant about cover-ups and demand grubby details about Walder’s resignation package.

We should probably look at the bigger picture. The MTR was not so long ago Hong Kong’s proudest achievement. Through no fault of its own, service quality has lately deteriorated as a result of our policymakers’ malevolent obsession with stuffing Hong Kong to over-capacity with Mainland visitors. Meanwhile, the mass-transit system is overloaded with expansion projects; it has been forced to construct a politically correct, patriotic white-elephant high-speed link to Shenzhen at the same time it is catching up with neighbourhood line extensions (Kwun Tong, South Island, etc) that probably should have been included in plans of previous decades. In terms of role and strategy, our leaders can’t decide whether MTR should be a for-profit company or a subsidized public utility. It doesn’t even seem clear whether it builds rail links to serve property developments or the other way round. Combine all this with the bureaucrat-developer cronyism and the ‘high land-price’ housing scam, and you would be forgiven for losing patience and saying Singapore got it right by just making housing and transport whole functions of a socialist government and being done with it.

So a civic success fades, and we are guaranteed to still have something to froth at the mouth about.


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