Not The South China Morning Post

A look back at 1999 - Dec 99
Looking back at `99

Still breathless after beating to death some bore who pointed out that the new millennium doesn't start until 1/1/01 - the fourth this week - QQ decided mid-December 1999 would be an appropriate time to look back at the three stupidest things the HK government has done in the past 1,000 years.  Conveniently, they all come from the last 12 months.

1.  Government put itself above the law.

In January, the Court of Final (look that word up in the dictionary) Appeal found against the government in a case too tedious to relate here.  In doing so, the court ruled that it was fully entitled to interpret the Basic Law, Hong Kong's nice-sounding constitution.  The government went crying to Peking, which (without much apparent enthusiasm) arranged for a rubber stamp committee of its rubber-stamp parliament to assert that right as its own.  This December, the same Court of Final Appeal ruled that this committee can, indeed, interpret any part of the Basic Law to mean whatever it is told to say it means, in time-honoured communist "rule by law" fashion. The Government now has a mechanism to overturn court judgements that it doesn't like - an avenue presumably also open to tycoons or others with good Peking connections. 

What to watch for: It is still theoretically possible to safeguard the rule of law in Hong Kong. Peking could introduce watertight rules defining strictly how and when such "interpretations" by the standing committee of the National People's Congress can be sought and by whom.  Or the government could simply admit it has been stupid.  Otherwise, this is the first really big nail in Hong Kong's coffin.

2. Government decided it can outsmart the free market and plan the economy.

Two big examples: Cyberport and Disney.  These were unveiled by Sir Donald Duck - sorry, Tsang - in his budget in April and were obviously intended to make us all feel Jolly Happy. QQ has dealt with Cyberport in a previous article, which readers will of course find entertaining and illuminating. (Basically: CH Tung went into Suharto mode and gave US$1 billion worth of our land to a supercilious 31-year-old son of a billionaire.  Just like that.  No debate ... nothing.)  The Disney deal is hardly better.  Desperate for popularity among the more puerile 50% of the population, the government handed more valuable land - plus tons of plain money - to the wretched "mouse that ate Western civilisation" to build one of its tacky theme parks.  No-one doubts that millions of nasty brats in East Asia will insist on coming to this Disneyland.  But the deal is a squandering of resources in a lame attempt to make people feel happy.

What to watch for: More handouts, especially of land, to favoured companies after cosy deals behind closed doors, to develop bits of the economy officials think are best for HK - the justification being that it is an "infrastructure" project.  QQ suspects that the government may have been taken aback by some of the criticism of these two particular projects and will not repeat anything on the scale of these two examples. But when you're governed by impulsive amateurs trying to ingratiate themselves with Peking, tycoons, foreign media and the great unwashed, simultaneously, who knows?  Maybe Warner Brothers will get free land for another theme park, in which case, to quote Bugs Bunny, "bdat bdat bdat ... that's aaaall folks" for laissez faire.

3.  Government got panic-prone, impulsive, didn't think things through, etc (as above).

Twas ever thus?  No, it wasn't.  The Brits didn't run HK like this.  They just sat there, made sure someone was paid to keep the sewers from clogging up, had a few gin-and-tonics, and went to bed.   None of this "vision" stuff - they just let HK get on with it.  Now we are "masters of our own house", as CH Tung put it after the handover.  Except the government has no democratic mandate.  And it has emasculated the legislative arm of government, and (see above) is doing the same to the courts.  Now, the government has to pander to every interest group it can find.  Reduce tax on diesel to please the taxi drivers.  Cut the minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers to please the racist housewife
constituency.  Promise to create jobs - not a government function - to please the unions. Clamp down on expats using foreign helpers as car drivers to please non-English speaking local drivers.  Send Cheung Man-yee, pro-free press director of the public broadcaster, into exile to please the sour-faced, geriatric "patriots" who thought they were going to be running HK after 1997.  And always, always add to the damage done to HK's reputation by items 1 and 2.  

What to watch for: More fiddling and micro-management, more over-reacting, more attempts to appease small groups at the expense of the whole community, more contrived attempts to boost morale (the Asian Games?), and when the popularity ratings get really low, more picking on Filipinos - never fails.  Optimistic possible scenario: Anson Chan gets the trusty Luger down from the wall, takes CH Tung out the back and mercifully dispatches him. But after shooting himself in the foot this much, is there any ammo left?

QQ's predictions for 2000

- Economy gets back to growth.  People cheer up a bit more.  Government calms down and becomes marginally less stupid, not that you�ll notice.
- Even if the US market does not have a correction, the Hang Seng Index will NOT reach 20,000 as predicted by some juvenile retard "analyst" at ING Barings this month.
- The government starts preparations to introduce a consumption tax.  Sir Donald's big chance to show HK what real leadership is all about, thus showing what a good Chief Executive he might make.   
- Eager to show the same thing, CY Leung pops up more and more. Only in HK can you be the Chief Executive's main advisor on property policy and, er...  run a major property related business at the same time.  With a conflict of interest like that, Leung's rise to the top is in the bag.
- Bye bye Robert Keatley, editor of the SCMP; hello a safe pair of hands. QQ's crystal ball is adamant that the new guy will have black hair and a monosyllabic family name.
- At last: QQ's columns and other brilliant bits of NTSCMP come out in book form, we all get rich and retire.