23 October 2016
Leung Chun-ying may be at the heart of all the problems confronting his administration. Photo: HKEJ
Leung Chun-ying may be at the heart of all the problems confronting his administration. Photo: HKEJ

CY’s black hole

There is a black hole at the heart of Leung Chun-ying’s administration, and its location can be precisely pinpointed to his office housed at that austere building in Tamar.

No one knows exactly what goes into the black hole, but it soon becomes clear what comes out.

Precisely because the black hole exists, suspicion lingers every time something emerges from this dark space.

When, as happened this week, two principal officials were suddenly removed, there was a flurry of speculation as to why they were ejected.

When, as happened this week, the chief executive stands accused of giving special help to a major property developer and former client in his previous life, no response is made to clear up the allegation.

And when, as is also happening this week, the chief executive chooses to deal with a major health scare by running around like a headless chicken and establishing no less than three separate committees to investigate how all this came about, the strong suspicion lingers that his real purpose is to defuse the situation and ensure that blame moves somewhere other than to Tamar.

A generously minded person might say that, in all three instances, reasonable explanations are to be found, but these same generously minded people would, at the very least, expect some attempt to communicate with the public on matters like these, which are very much in the public interest.

This, of course, is not merely a matter of communication but concerns the fundamental way the government is run.

The problem at the heart of the CY Leung administration is, unsurprisingly, CY himself.

People who work with him say that he is instinctively secretive and simply does not understand why he needs to explain his actions.

Moreover, he is a man of fixed ideas who does not appreciate the notion of anyone questioning these ideas.

Thirdly, he simply does not understand the concept of accountability.

In his mind being called to account is a challenge to his authority and renders the challengers as being opponents, even in circumstances where they are genuinely trying to be helpful.

This mindset was on full display this week when the officials were removed without any consultation, even with the Executive Council.

The allegations relating to property development in Discovery Bay were simply ignored, and as for the lead poisoning scandal, things go from bad to worse as the government blunders in all directions trying to make it disappear.

It would be unfair to say that CY is the only head of government who behaves in this way, but in systems of governance that contain proper checks and balances, the power of the person at the top is circumscribed and there is scope for improving governance.

Moreover, there is the ultimate sanction of a democratic system where the electorate is given a chance to decide who rules.

This form of control is crude and imperfect, but it sure as hell has a salutary impact on the mindset of leaders who have no choice but to seek a popular mandate.

Accountability is too expensive

Lamentably, CY Leung is not alone among Hong Kong leaders who simply don’t understand how a properly functioning system of government works.

This inability to comprehend is shared by his allies in the pro-government camp that dominates the legislature.

Some hide this better than others, but we should be grateful to the legislator Ip Kwok-him, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, for inadvertently letting the cat out of the bag this week, when he told a local newspaper the reason he had failed to ask a single question in Legco was because it cost too much for officials to prepare answers.

Mr. Ip clearly believes that accountability would be all right as long it can be cost-free.

Trying to disentangle this nonsense is above my pay grade, but at the very least, it can be said that when a legislator believes that his job is to save money by not doing his job, surely he should take this belief to its logical conclusion and return the generous salary he is paid for whatever it is that he believes he is supposed to be doing in Legco.

How many civil servants does it take to do anything at all?

Finally, in case there is a remaining scintilla of doubt about the dysfunctionality at the heart of government, we were informed this week that no fewer than nine different government departments are involved in the business of maintaining roadside trees.

Two major tree collapses, causing injuries, in the space of a single week have highlighted that something is wrong here.

Fortunately, I have a suggestion for how to solve the problem – it’s simple: form a committee to look into the matter, and remember, speed is not of the essence.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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