While Hong Kong’s police round up ‘instigators’ of the great Kids-Camping-on-Streets outrage on desperate-sounding charges of incitement or willful singing of carols in Causeway Bay, a little bit of justice is about to take place – the sentencing of one of the city’s rapacious property tycoons to prison. In the words of a long, long-ago TV commercial for a now-forgotten local fast-food chain: “Yummy Yummy Yum!”
But first: disgraced former Chief Secretary Rafael Hui. He has legions of supporters scribbling letters to the judge pleading for leniency. The missives are indeed stomach-churning, presuming that he deserves special treatment because he is vulnerable to the cold and takes Chinese medicine, as if the thousands of socially inferior felons put behind bars every year enjoy their unheated cells during winter. (As head of the government’s policymaking team in the mid-2000s, he could have suggested that the Correctional Services Department improve living conditions for convicts, couldn’t he? Sadly, it seems he overlooked it.)
Rafael is a tragic case, and a thinly fictionalized movie is no doubt in the works as we speak. It is impossible not to squirm: the compulsive acquisition of musical records, the porn laser discs (which is worse – having porn or having laser discs?), the inevitable simpering Shanghai flight-attendant bimbo (played by Cecilia Cheung). And one of the groveling letters appealing for mercy has to come from then-Chief Executive Donald Tsang, whose loyalty to his friend requires him to sacrifice the chance not to call attention to his own infatuation with real-estate barons’ lifestyles.
No-one is writing pleas for clemency on behalf of Sun Hung Kai Properties’ Thomas Kwok (or hardly anyone, though his mother is putting in a good word). For reasons that are beyond non-lawyers, he has been found guilty of fewer corruption-related charges than Rafael, and his brother Raymond innocent, though each offence was surely a transaction between two parties. He will presumably do less time in prison. But none of this really matters. After a life of (I am guessing) housemaids, silk pajamas, abalone and other entitlements of those who inherit a slice of the property cartel, he is going to have an unimaginably horrible experience, even if he only serves six months.
In the eyes of right-thinking Hong Kong people, he will be paying at least a little for the sins of this whole caste of parasites. The property tycoons bleed the middle-class dry by extracting much of families’ lifetime earnings from them in exchange for a place to live. A place not only grossly overpriced, but tiny and otherwise miserly. And they even lied about the size of the home, and employed agents to pressure buyers into making the purchase now, before someone else gets it. Effortlessly accumulating countless billions in profit margins, the tycoons bought up transport, utilities, retail and other easily monopolized sectors of the domestic economy, cornering the supply of other essentials to a captive population.
It was and is all legal, but in other countries you would be imprisoned for the collusion, the suppression of competition and the fraudulent sales practices. Locking one up for slipping a few million to some bimbo-addled bureaucrat-wretch is the least we deserve.
It would be interesting to know what Jesus Christ thinks about the karmatic side of all this. When bearing witness several years ago, Thomas Kwok said: “God was asking me to do something, but I didn’t know what it was.” Maybe it was ‘stop ripping millions of people off’.
To read the South China Morning Post’s full-page story on the need for more accountability, you get the impression that too much Lafite is the problem. An anonymous official says that he and his colleagues have to hobnob with businessmen ‘to collect their views on policy formation to meet market needs’, and the paper reports this without pausing to consider whether it is true, or whether perhaps tailoring policy to tycoons’ preferences might have something to do with causing the whole stinking mess.
(Just in: five years. Adding insult to injury, SHKP’s share price ends the morning 1% up.)