29th February, 2012
Having seen what Your Excellency has said and done recently and in particular your letter to the civil service dated 28th February, one cannot help ruminating on all that’s happened to Hong Kong these years. I wish to reply to you as a former civil servant.
I recall that during the 1998 Asian financial turmoil, you invited a group of young Administrative Officers to your residence as the Financial Secretary at Shouson Hill. You were proud of AOs and, much … as you criticized those “second-rate analysts” before camera, you held a rather condescending view [of] those people working outside the government. In fact, I had [many reservations about] your view, except on one point: that all interest groups in the community were fighting for their own vested interests, whereas AOs and the civil service at large could play an unbiased and disinterested role as arbiters of those competing interests.
To be seen as fair, one must stay well clear of suspicion. Unfortunately, you have not kept your own faith. As the Chief Executive, you should well know the lack of legitimacy of your governing team and should rather err on the safe side if in doubt.
“Civil servants must avoid any lavish, unreasonably generous or frequent entertainment that may lead to embarrassment in performing official duties or bring the Civil Service into disrepute.” We [were] taught these basic rules of the Civil Service Regulations on the first days of our appointments. Your Excellency has been praised by Mr. Chris Patten as a consummate civil servant; given your seniority it is unimaginable that you are not aware of these. Would any reasonable man believe that you, at [the] pinnacle of authority and with such [a] wide span of power, would have no official dealings whatsoever with those who entertained you?
Owing to the ridiculous system of Hong Kong, you have to kneel before Beijing’s mandarins and are often unreasonably assailed at home, until your will is eroded, your energy spent, and your popularity consumed. Frankly, what you have got is the least enviable job on earth. This I understand.
You have indeed passed the minimum wage law during your term of office. And the much overdue competition law is about to become reality. Notwithstanding its many defects, this is still progress.
But what has become of Hong Kong all these years? You alleged in the press statement that as the CE, you “had to get a full picture of what was happening in the community” and hence the need to maintain “contact with people from all walks of life”. In fact, you do not understand the life of 99% of Hong Kong people. Nay, it’s not just you but your entire governing team, so called.
For you are surrounded and escorted by the rich and powerful wherever you go. Your commissions and committees are inundated with like-minded friends and second-generation dandies. You read only newspaper cuttings well filtered, and bureaucratic papers amended and tailored to the palate of senior management. Your political shows at districts are all about fretting and strutting through well-dressed windows. The balls and parties you attend are filled with pleasant tones and lukewarm syllables, harmless but meaningless speeches. Have you ever noticed the soles of your top officials’ leather shoes? They are hardly worn out because they step on only limousines and red carpets. Have you ever noticed the collars of your shirts? They are barely stained by sweat because you only sit in well air-conditioned conference room.
Since you are the yes-man even in front of provincial Mainland officials, what could have your subordinates done? What more could we expect? After seven years of your reign, we couldn’t even hold our heads high in our own city. Our gini coefficient measuring rich-poor divide almost ranks the world’s highest. The so-called “sub-divided units” for ordinary folks cannot even measure up to pets’ dwelling in tycoons’ penthouse. Those living on speculation make it bigger and bigger and those down-to-earth hard-working people – be they running a Cha Chaan Teng or high-tech start-up – can barely see their future.
Faced with such grievance or indeed indignation, Your Excellency’s administration is only left with the broken device of conferring small favours year after year, which only serves to destroy our traditional work ethics. On the one hand, your team sings aloud to the tune of “Under the Lion Rock”; but in fact you are destroying this very legend with your own hands. We do not beg for alms; we only ask for a place under the sun.
You wrote to the SCMP when your scandalous dealing was exposed, excusing yourself that under current rules political appointees could seek your approval when in doubt, whereas there’s no authority you could naturally turn to. I’m not sure whether you, as a manifested Catholic, have asked your God. But I’m sure Your Excellency knows well the spirit of Hong Kong’s system: as the head of the executive arm, you would be checked and sanctioned by the legislature.
Now Hong Kong is left in misery. For your sake, we might have the first test case of presidential impeachment just like so many fragile Latin-American democracies. For otherwise there would be no recourse to justice. It would not be possible to appease those who have fallen, stepped down or been sentenced for just a few minor blots on their character. And it would be ridiculous in future to enforce permissions granted by the CE under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, with regard to the kind of advantages that may be accepted by public servants, including those which Your Excellency has liberally taken on your voyage.
But to press ahead on impeachment would put the Central People’s Government in great embarrassment. For your sake, Your Excellency, the SAR that has been born for only fifteen years and [is still] void of a good political convention, would have to face a constitutional crisis and have its executive authority seriously disdained.
You, with your usual adroitness in crisis management, endeavoured to drag more people into the quagmire. You sought refuge in our well-regarded retired Chief Justice; and with a sudden twist, proclaimed that the existing procedures and mechanism – which all along have been working well according to the usual lines-to-take of your administration – deserve a fundamental and thorough scrutiny. Your intention is nothing short of blurring the focus and diverting our attention with endless committee enquiries and paperwork. In fact, what is in need of thorough scrutiny is neither the mechanism nor the procedure, but the conscience of this society.
You are fond of parroting mainland’s official parlance. The best description for our current situation is the comment by Premier Wen Jiabao on “Moral Landslip” or our moral decline. Your administration turns a blind eye to the monopoly of the property tycoons, whilst taking a tough hand on small peddlers and street hawkers selling egg waffles or polishing shoes, or indeed, any Hongkonger who is proud not to live on the dole that you use to bribe us into supporting your failed administration.
While most of us have to work like slaves for only a few square feet in order to live with basic decency, those in your cabinet – those who have already gleaned the last scraps of housing benefits funded by taxpayers – are knowingly, unlawfully and stealthily constructing their own Versailles. Obviously, you could not rein in such improprieties – to put it mildly – owing to your own implication. However skilful you are in acquitting yourselves by exploiting the smallest loopholes in our law books, it is undeniable that Hong Kong is close to the tipping point where the “poor has no place to stick an awl”, as our ancestors put it.
Of course, all of your corrupt behaviours are technically lawful, for you people know the law and regulations. You people could still brandish your sophistry at the debating chamber, fudge the issues or even overturn the truth. You people are masters of words and experts in bending the rules, and like those property developers, “lick to the last drop of gravy”. However, the authority and morality of you and your team are both on the verge of collapse.
Could any reasonable man not cast doubts on what you people have done?
Finally, I hope that the ICAC would save itself the trouble of that useless investigation. What good can be done with a Commissioner appointed by Your Excellency? I sincerely hope that this institution – the pride of Hong Kong and possibly the last bulwark standing between us and the mainland – would not have its reputation, hard earned on forty years of toils, sunk for the sake of a single person’s unspeakable petty advantages.
I have wished to express my views on Your Excellency’s governance of Hong Kong in a tone as moderate and courteous as possible. I am sorry I simply couldn’t do that once I recall all that’s happened and the darkness that lies ahead of us.