Thwarting the Hong Kong spirit
SCMP August 7, 2006
Barely a day goes by without further evidence, big and small, that
Hong Kong's natural verve - that of individual talent and business
entrepreneurship - is being suffocated by an increasingly arrogant,
politicised and institutionally corrupt bureaucracy.
I use those latter words advisedly. The corruption may not be of the
individual form that might be investigated by the Independent Commission
Against Corruption. Rather, it is the mutual backscratching that goes
on between the senior bureaucrats and a few business interests - notably
those with inherited wealth. It is against competition, against proper
and independent regulation of the stock market, against serious efforts
to either tackle pollution or put the public interest before private
First, take Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's plan to create a new political
class of deputy ministers. Worse than creating another bunch of overpaid
shoeshiners for the chief executive, the concept further blurs the
line between the civil service, politics and business.
It is, in effect, an attempt to build a government party that - if
not like the Communist Party - is at least like the People's Action
Party in Singapore. That means an elite group whose members glide between
ministerial jobs, senior civil-service positions and leadership of
In this kind of set-up, power is no longer just its own reward: it's
also the path to riches. Mr Tsang's scheme is a deliberate attempt
to bolster a narrow power elite to ward off not just democracy, but
also the defence of public interests at large. It is not clear how
much of his model comes from Singapore, or Beijing, or the Catholic
Church, or Franco's Spain - but it contains bits of all of them.
As for lesser illustrations, here are a few from recent days. This
newspaper revealed last week that the Competition Policy Advisory Group
(Compag) declared that a complaint of price-fixing in freight forwarding
was 'not substantiated' - even though the body which claims to represent
90 per cent of air-freight handling actually publishes a fixed-price
list. Compag is headed by the financial secretary, includes a bevy
of senior officials and is administered by the bureaucracy. It cannot
be taken seriously except as a dishonest attempt to pretend to promote
competition while shielding cartels.
As this and earlier rulings show, Compag is a classic case of collusion
- between government and a business group - to keep prices and profits
high at the expense of smaller businesses and the economy at large.
Another case is the placement of Gracie Foo Siu-wai, a civil servant
with no actual broadcasting experience, as the No 2 at RTHK. Coming
from the Telecommunications Authority, she may know something about
regulating broadcasters, but this was a direct slap in the face for
Director of Broadcasting Chu Pui-hing. Be sure that this bureaucratic
lifer is there for one reason only - to limit the freedom of the airwaves.
Then there's Mr Tsang's demand that the public take the lead in fighting
pollution - while his supposedly executive-led government endlessly
delays decisions on cleaning up power stations and diesel engine emissions,
and pushes ahead with exhaust-generating central road schemes.
Finally, we saw further financial scandals that underline the inability
of the government-controlled monopoly Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing
to regulate itself. This was the collapse of Ocean Grand Holdings,
which left more than 800 million yuan in clients' funds missing. We
saw the rapid exodus of high-profile figures from the Ocean Grand board,
following their apparent failure to carry out their fiduciary duties
towards the shareholders.
HKEx is clearly run to protect vested interests from both free competition
and the rigorous enforcement of rules.
Democracy is no panacea, but without a stronger and more representative
Legislative Council, this drift towards bureaucratic authoritarianism
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