Challenge the ruling elite, Mr Tsang

SCMP June 27, 2005

Can the new chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, think outside the box? He may be able to do little about progress towards democracy but, being a student of colonial governance, he must have noticed that two governors during his time made a particular impact: Lord Murray MacLehose and Chris Patten. Why? Because both rejected establishment wisdom.
Lord MacLehose rejected the colonial office mentality by insisting that Hong Kong could be a modern society, that institutionalised police corruption could be fought and that a degree of social justice was compatible with economic growth.

Mr Patten rejected the Foreign Office view that there was no alternative to following a through train driven by China, and tried to bring some elements of self-government and government accountability to Hong Kong.

As a consummate insider, Mr Tsang may find it difficult to look at Hong Kong with a fresh eye. But, as a politician, he must see that leadership requires taking risks. If he cannot take risks with Beijing, he can at least do so with local power holders.

But the prospects seem discouraging. Like most senior civil servants, he seems to have an inflated view of the role of this class.

He talks a lot about entrepreneurship, but comes from a family of government officials. His father was a station sergeant, a formidable position at a time when the senior ranks of the police were mostly filled by expatriates.

His brother made it to the top of the force. But at least Mr Tsang has a better claim than most to grass-roots origins.

So, where better to start being a grass-roots leader than with his privileged civil service "family"? The post-retirement rules outlined for the 2007 chief executive should be applied now to all top civil servants. They have fat enough pensions not to need high-paying jobs in the private sector or statutory bodies. Let them do public service or charity work instead.

Overpayment of quasi-bureaucrats is everywhere. The latest example, uncovered by financial analyst David Webb, directly affects all private-sector employees: a monstrous 2 per cent of the Mandatory Provident Fund assets are siphoned off annually on costs, to support its bureaucracy and a few providers.

At least that is not criminal, unlike the kickbacks being paid - according to this newspaper - by specialist doctors and hospitals, which the Department of Justice has declined to prosecute. This appears to be the kind of institutionalised graft that used to exist in the police force.

Mr Tsang could also ask his former police chief brother, Tsang Yam-pui, to set a better example. Was it appropriate to move from a position requiring the highest level of public trust to executive director of NWS Holdings? This is a New World subsidiary, whose profits are in part dependent on government regulation. Which brings me back to the Competition Policy Review Committee, on which I have written previously.

The secretary of the committee claimed in a letter to this paper that the members are "appointed on an ad personam basis rather than representing a trade or organisation". So, is Andrew Brandler, head of CLP Holdings, going to argue for ending power monopolies?

The chairman of this committee is Christopher Cheng Wai-chee, chairman of the USI group and a director of New World China Land. And USI chief executive Edward Cheng Wai-sun is chairman of the Urban Renewal Authority. And so forth.

Why are such bodies drawn from a tiny group of families and interests when so many educated professional and business people are ignored?

Take courage, Mr Tsang. If you cannot deliver democracy, grasp an opportunity to take some power out of the dead hand of cliques. There are many ways to broaden the base of government.




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