Bureaucratic barriers to greatness
SCMP December 4, 2006
The ignorance and complacency of the chief bureaucrat on pollution
was displayed last week, when Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen
defended Hong Kong's air quality. But that was just the most glaring
example of how bureaucratic attitudes stand in the way of Hong Kong
actually earning its self-awarded designation as Asia's 'world city'.
The government announced last week that Bangladesh nationals would
require a visa to enter Hong Kong, starting on December 11. This administration's
officials seem to take the view that Bangladesh is 'a far-away country
of which we know nothing'. Hence, for them, it's of no consequence
to end the visa-free access Bangladeshis have enjoyed, as a result
of a reciprocal agreement. Now Hong Hong passport holders will almost
certainly have to get visas for Bangladesh.
This is a fine way to reward Bangladesh for the fact that it did not
require visas of Hong Kong passport holders, though it does of many
other nationalities including Britons, Australians and Americans. It
is clear that our bureaucrats know little of the world of commerce
that is Hong Kong's lifeblood.
Bangladesh is a major player in the global textile and garment business,
so much of which is organised from Hong Kong. The ending of the Multifibre
Arrangement (MFA) last year has enhanced the role of both China and
Bangladesh in this trade.
That has been the main reason why, for years, Dragonair and Bangladesh
Biman Airlines have between them operated seven direct flights a week
between Hong Kong and Dhaka. One might also think that Asia's 'world
city' would like to attract tourism and service business from a nation
of 130 million people - the seventh most populous in the world.
The reason given for ending visa-free access is that Bangladeshis
are sneaking in to work illegally. But that applies also to people
of other nationalities who are not required to have visas. Anyway,
the employment of illegals is a problem caused more by employer demand
than the supply. The same bureaucrats who want to punish Bangladeshis
show less enthusiasm for pursuing employers. That is especially true
when the beneficiaries, hiding behind a string of sub-contractors,
are the same companies that have the administration in their pockets.
Which brings me to my topic of a month ago: the ugly environment and
lack of eating facilities at Repulse Bay beach - marred by the six-year-old
scar of a development site at one end and the empty, government-owned
Seaview Building at the other. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department
says the Seaview's restaurant was closed early last year when repossessed
by the government, following a dispute with the former licensee.
It was not being reopened because 'the building was built over 50
years ago and the interior has seriously deteriorated'. Hence, 'redeveloping
this scenic site by the private sector [will] better develop the tourism
potential'. What an extraordinary statement! So, 50 years is too much
for a building when it is allowed by official neglect to deteriorate
to the point where it is said to be unusable. As a result, private
developers must be given the opportunity to exploit it at some future
date when the bureaucracy has enough incentive to come to a decision.
Meanwhile, the Emperor Group's development at the other end of the
beach is a classic example of how private developers bend so-called
'principles' of government. Under the outline zoning plan, the site
was restricted to three storeys. Emperor's plans for a five-storey
building were accordingly rejected by the Planning Department.
But, thanks to one of those curious little ambiguities that occur
all too often in the wording of government documents relating to land,
the Planning Department and the zoning plan were overruled by an appeal
tribunal in March. Thus, the Emperor Group - free to scar the beachfront
for years - is now allowed to run roughshod over so-called planning.
TOP OF THE PAGE