John Tsang reconsidered

While we are all snoring our asses off jumping up and down in frenzied anticipation about today’s Budget, it might be a good time to revisit Financial Secretary John Tsang.

Since assuming office in 2007, the walrus-impersonating kung fu-master has made the JohnTsangBudgcrafting of government fiscal policy into a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Every year he predicts a deficit and warns of disaster – even invoking such calamities as Greece. And every year he reports a massive surplus. He stashes the bulk of this away alongside the existing HK$1.7 trillion (or whatever) of reserves; like a squirrel storing nuts in the lead-up to winter, he has probably forgotten where half of it is now. After warning of the pointlessness of throwing money away in the form of inane handouts, usually to people who don’t need to be told and don’t need it, he throws the money away in the form of the very same inane handouts.

If he had delivered this performance once, or maybe twice in a row, the citizens who created this wealth and by rights own it would regard him as incompetent. After eight straight years, it has become a source of wonder that he goes back and does it all yet again. And when he is not repeating this annual Budget charade, he spouts the same slogans about how an aging population will ruin the government’s finances, and proposes the same idiocies like convoluted new healthcare funding systems or measures to encourage ‘Islamic banking’.

But – and this is where the ‘revisit’ thing comes in – consider the things he has not done. He has not turned a widely respected police force into a thuggish political enforcement agency dedicated to pepper-spraying pro-democracy students. He has not taken part in witch hunts against academics or launched creepy and bizarre patriotic PLA-style Army Cadet units for school kids. He has not airily insisted that nothing’s happened after newspapers have their websites hacked or personnel assaulted. The closest he ever came to creating division and hatred in the community was to align himself with coffee-drinking elites who watch French movies. In an era when we are increasingly ruled by totalitarian-leaning SCMP-Giveawaysmalevolence, we should treasure such plain and simple old-fashioned stupidity and ineptitude.

Which brings us to the latest development in the great political reform saga, which seemed so important before the Umbrella Movement stamped ‘Beside the Point’ if not ‘Dead on Arrival’ all over it late last year. The Election/Nomination Committee tasked with picking two or three Beijing-approved candidates for the 2017 Chief Executive election could be expanded from 1,200 to 1,600 with Extra Special Added Sectors for women, young people and – yes we’re getting desperate – civil servants. So an anonymous government source tells the South China Morning Post (perhaps on condition that the newspaper refers to the rubber-stamp body as ‘the electoral college’).

Adding seats to rigged bodies is the oldest and lamest trick in the Hong Kong non-democratization book. Although the Election Committee and the Legislative Council have been expanded over the years, the composition has remained in proportion – safely stacked with a smallish but dependable majority of members obedient to the Chinese Communist Party, plus another 30% or 40% who are semi-reliable shoe-shiners, and a small rump of pro-democrats for window dressing. This promises to be more of the same.

Let’s say there would be 100 new seats for ‘young people’. Typically, maybe 20 of these members would be directly elected by members of student unions – meaning most would be pro-democrats. But another 30 would be returned by (say) youth bodies from the Boy Scouts to the HK Army Cadet Red Guards, whose grown-up and pro-establishment leaders would pick suitably sensible individuals. And the remaining 50 would be chosen by other community organizations, which on closer inspection would mostly turn out to be United Front groups. The SCMP source maintains that it would be more one-man-one-vote than this, but we can be sure the net result would be the status quo: a body that delivers a result predetermined by Beijing. (Why not chuck in a Middle-Aged Private-Sector Guys’ Constituency while you’re at it?)

Why are they bothering? One possibility is that (mostly local) officials are genuinely alarmed at the prospect of pro-dem legislators vetoing the reform package and leaving Hong Kong less governable than ever. Another all-too believable possibility is that (mostly Beijing) officials are concerned that popular opinion is leaning too far in support of a veto, when the aim is to avoid even a managed form of universal suffrage as too worrying to the increasingly authoritarian Xi regime – and get the public to blame the evil pro-democrats for it. Or, of course, both.

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13 Responses to John Tsang reconsidered

  1. mjrelje says:

    Budget Live: 75% reduction on salaries tax, subject to ceiling of $20,000…. what does that actually mean? Shouldn’t there also be a 75% increase in taxes subject to a minimum monthly wage of $200,000.

  2. PHT says:

    What I don’t get is why he repeatedly says “my budget” and “I will …”

    It is the government’s budget, and I don’t believe for a second that he comes up with the nonsense himself nor will he actually get involved in any of the real work of implementing the stupid policies he is presenting.

  3. Cassowary says:

    Tsang seems to be in the same vein as old Henry. Put the papers on my desk, I’ll sign them later. No, I don’t need to read them. I’ll look over the speech in the car on the way there, it’ll be fine. Anyone up for golf? I hear that’s why the civil service liked him. He drew his salary, approved what was put in front of him, and did bugger all. To think we might be nostalgic for that kind of governance one day.

    What I’m trying to figure out is the loyalists’ motives behind proposing increasingly repulsive candidates for future CE. First Lexus Leung, then Regina, and now Arthur “Dickbag” Li. I half expect it to be Elsie Leung next. It’s almost as if they are trying to piss people off. Or perhaps we mere mortals aren’t the intended audience and various shoe-shining factions are trying to make their case to Xi’s cronies that their candidate will be the Firm Hand Hong Kong Needs.

  4. Maugrim says:

    HK, the only place where disgraced Henry Tang can get media exposure to lecture the Dems to accept the Governments’ reform package. The dolt has all of the credence of a toad.

  5. Stephen says:

    John is not scary (unlike CY) and I don’t think he’s daft as he looks which leaves me to believe he’s just plain lazy and can’t be bothered to change the system which has been in place for time and memoriam. Expect much the same in 2016 and 17 after which he retires to jam, drink gourmet coffee whilst watching his French art films. Man of the people or cock ? I know which way I lean.

    Seems we are slowly going towards an attempt to replicate 2010 “compromise” on political reform. I just can’t see that they are going to find 4 democratic clowns daft enough to buy it this time . So let’s carry on with filibusters, throwing things and further polarizing society until the CCP comes to its senses (if that’s actually possible) and writes a proper reform proposal for Carrie, Rimsky and Baldy to sell.

    Meanwhile I not sure what was the most disturbing sight over CNY ? Was it seeing Vagina get jostled by a unicorn or cooing with her gweilo boyfriend, over a glass of red in Discovery Bay?

  6. Groggery says:

    “Adding seats to rigged bodies” reminds me of how more numbers were “helpfully” added to the Mark Six.

  7. PCC says:

    “…officials are concerned that popular opinion is leaning too far in support of a veto, when the aim is to avoid even a managed form of universal suffrage as too worrying to the increasingly authoritarian Xi regime.”

    I don’t know. It must be my sub-par education. Isn’t there something self-contradictory about that passage? I’ve read it 10 times and can make neither heads nor tails of it.

    Anyway, I guess if Hemlock says it, it must be right. Whatever it means.

  8. mjrelje says:

    Vagina has a gweilo boyfriend?? Really? Isn’t that deep foreign penetration into government business?

  9. Cassowary says:

    “Politician knocked down by unicorn”.

    Hong Kong might be the only place on earth where that headline would not be a parody.

  10. PD says:

    John Tsang is in the mould of Michael Suen and Rafael Hui. All creatures of the colonial civil service, they are pleasant people, sound, loyal, affable, cosmopolitan up to a point, well-versed in flattery, but totally out of their depth as soon as it comes to changing habits born in a more liberal era, or knowing right from wrong or the truth from lies.

    Hemlock, that cosmetic changes to the CE selection procedure would belatedly be floated was totally predictable (and indeed predicted). The only “news” is that it is so little, so late.

    I suspect that the powers that be are so surprised that the compatriots have not simply lain down and given up the fight for democracy that they don’t know what to do now.

    And either CY is chuckling merrily at finally being able to needle all the people and groups he bears a poisonous grudge against for underestimating him for so long.

    Or he knows he’s on the way out, and has decided he might as well have some fun for a while.

  11. nulle says:

    There exist a distinct probability the CCP, United Front, Labor Front, or the DAB, even Chinese intelligence would blackmail or under durest 4 pro-dem members (using whatever black materials/dirty laundry) Chinese intelligence could find to force these 4 pro-dem member to vote for the fake democracy…

    when push comes to shove, these guys save their asses (and themselves from their families) and screw the HK citizens….

  12. @nulle – I think any seriously dirty laundry in the pan-dems’ closets would have been aired already if it existed. Most of them don’t seem to have much of a life outside politics anyway. Plus it might invite tit-for-tat retaliation, which could rebound on some of the Party faithful who probably have their own secrets they’re not eager to share.

    As for John Tsang, if the CFO of any public company was so repeatedly off-the-mark with his forecasts, he would have been sacked years ago.

  13. LRE says:

    John Tsang is essentially the Murray Walker of economic commentators — he is so consistently inaccurate that you can almost guarantee whatever he predicts is the exact opposite of what will actually occur.

    And yet, somehow you just can’t help liking him. Perhaps it’s only for his bumbling enthusiasm for a subject he’s so unsuited to.

    Maybe it’s the sense of camaraderie engendered by his oh-so-human abject fallibility with regards to knowing what is actually going on. The restful, even soothing sense that despite all his years as an expert, he still hasn’t got the least clue about his field of expertise.

    Or is it the confidence he instills in all of us that we, too could have a fair crack at his job. After all: how hard can it be, if John can fail so wretchedly time and time again and still get away with it?

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