While everyone’s up in Beijing attending the ultimate time-wasting ritual that is the Lianghui (two weeks, for heaven’s sake), let’s ask a slightly pointed question. Would Hong Kong be a better place if we let a bunch of five-year-olds run it? They could sit in the dirt and make mud pies. OK, it wouldn’t actually achieve anything – but at least it wouldn’t cost much. As it is, we are spending lots of time, money and effort getting nothing productive done.
Consider Chief Executive CY Leung’s obsession with starting up some sort of innovation and technology thingummy doodah whatchamacallit. If memory serves, this was one of the less-interesting bits of his ‘election platform’. Pro-democracy legislators filibustered his administration’s strenuous attempts to establish an Innovation and Technology Bureau, not because it was pointless, but simply because they could. (If CY put forward a motion stating that the world was round, they would oppose it.) So he has now done the devious next best thing and appointed a Tech Supremo, the hitherto unknown Nicholas Yang. The pro-dems are against this, again not because it’s pointless – which would be too much hard work to explain – but in a fit of pique because they can’t veto the appointment.
That’s because it’s not an official role as such. Mr Yang is supposed to advise on the vision-competitiveness-tech thing. He also gets a seat on the already crowded and seemingly inconsequential Executive Council. The South China Morning Post quotes CY as raving about ‘pro bono advisor’ Nicholas’s ‘personal networks’, while the Standard tells us that that the position is ‘unsalaried’ but comes with an honorarium of HK$76,510 a month. I have received one or two honoraria (Latin for ‘beer money’) myself in the past. In my experience, they were: one-offs rather than regular; nice round sums rather than Civil Service Pay Scale-precise; non-taxable (I think – at least I didn’t declare them, ha ha); and, most of all, nowhere near 76 grand. But then I’m not a tech guru advisor vision czar supremo.
For all we know, Nicholas Yang is a mega-geek – maybe a whizz at Ruby On Rails or some other unfathomable techie coding stuff. Or maybe he really has some amazing Darwin- or Einstein-scale insight about how science can transform Hong Kong. But the chances are that a big fat juicy zilch is the most likely outcome from all this. The government rigs the economy so the most rewards go to people who rent out shop-fronts to wholesalers of milk-powder to cross-border smugglers, and then it starts bleating about innovation and tech. At best, it seems like an elaborate and tedious way to prove a point in order to irritate the pro-dems, who predictably can’t miss an opportunity to get miffed when completely ignoring the whole charade would be so much more cool.
Meanwhile, an ever-so important Working Group produces guidelines on how and when the government should dip into the Future Fund, a smallish (HK$200 billion) chunk of the total accumulated reserves that has for no obvious reason been delineated as a separate stash of money and given the label ‘Future Fund’ to distinguish it (or perhaps divert attention) from the other trillion or so bucks that presumably now make up the ‘Non-Future Fund’. The Working Group says this particular wodge of cash is to be ‘locked up for 10 years and used only for absolutely essential items’, which sounds like exactly the fate of the rest of the reserves. (‘By ‘absolutely essential’, we mean far, far more important than food, health, shelter or clean air – more essential than you could possibly believe.)
No-one knows why the Hong Kong government sucks such huge amounts of wealth out of the economy year after year only to sit on it. It seems to come down to an ancient colonial bureaucratic – almost monarchical – mentality that the ‘government’ is a separate entity with entirely different and indeed opposing interests from the population and economy. It’s the same deranged thinking that leads the bureaucracy to go to such lengths to prevent people from having access to space in which to live and to make a living (make a huge up-front deposit into the reserves, and give a similar slice to a developer, and only then may you start a business or family). The government must preserve and protect ‘its’ resources and keep them safe from its deadly rivals, the inhabitants.
Rather than ask what the hell’s going on – like can we have our money back please? – everyone is getting worked up about how to invest this HK$200 billion with a special label. The Working Group, in all its importance and wisdom, also says the fund will not produce guaranteed returns, which is exactly what it would say if it was reading from a script prepared by bureaucrats who know that whatever they do will be a disaster. One lawmaker suggests an annual report on how this new Special Label Fund performs and even hopes it could be used for ‘meaningful projects’. But he represents the finance sector and obviously knows nothing about these things.
While we’re waiting for our betters to come back from Beijing and resume their amazingly useful work, here’s all you need to know about ‘Why World Cares’ so avidly about the Two Sessions (hint: ‘opportunity to watch the oriental country’).