13 November 2019
Pan-democrats called for water in schools to be tested, but the CY Leung administration decided to supply water filters instead, though not to kindergartens. Photos: HKEJ
Pan-democrats called for water in schools to be tested, but the CY Leung administration decided to supply water filters instead, though not to kindergartens. Photos: HKEJ

Collusion, indifference, revenge all in week’s work for CY & Co.

It was a week that saw some of the worst examples of government collusion with property developers, staggering indifference to real concerns over children’s welfare and, just to cap it off, a nasty piece of political revenge.

Even by the dismal standards set by the Leung Chun-ying administration, the last week of August has come to resemble a perfect storm.

It is hard to pinpoint the center of this storm, but anxious parents with children going back to school will have no doubt where it lies.

Thanks to an initiative by two schools, working without government assistance, lead poisoning has been discovered in their water supply.

The obvious response, given the sensitivity of this matter, would have been for the administration to launch its own citywide testing of water in schools.

However, on Thursday it wheeled out a long line of second-tier officials (their bosses remained out of sight) to announce that widespread testing could not be done for all the usual reasons that come under the category of it being too bothersome, but in case this level of indifference was deemed to be insufficient, one of the bureaucrats had the temerity to explain that testing would only cause “unnecessary alarm”.

Yes, he actually accused Hong Kong parents of unnecessarily worrying about their children’s health after two months of a lead-poisoning scandal that has been bungled and bungled again by an administration that initially thought it could get away with pinpointing the blame for the whole affair on one single plumbing subcontractor.

Instead of conducting water tests, the government will provide water filters for schools built after 2005 — in other words, for less than 10 per cent of Hong Kong’s schools.

Private kindergartens, where 167,000 children are schooled, will have to fend for themselves.

So far, so very bad, but meanwhile, by the day, new discoveries are made of water supply contamination in public housing estates.

The government response is to whine about the lack of resources to tackle the problem.

New World empire

However, resources can, apparently be found, for accommodating the wishes of one of Hong Kong’s biggest property development companies.

In 2004, the government scandalously handed over control of the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront to New World Development Co. Ltd. (00017.HK), which then created a tacky “Avenue of the Stars” to draw visitors into its adjacent properties.

Apparently this did not satisfy New World’s appetite for control of the waterfront, so it applied to extend its empire eastwards.

As ever, a mock public consultation exercise was held, but its results were not up to standard, because practically no one liked the idea of handing over this iconic part of Hong Kong’s landscape to the property developer.

The exercise was thus ignored, and the plan was rubber-stamped by the weasels who populate the Town Planning Board.

This was followed by a flurry of almost unbelievable government explanations for the decision to give New World a new management contract lasting until 2035.

Among the explanations advanced, which threaten to give satire a bad name, are that New World has done a great job so far, that there was no need for a competitive tender because this was a not-for-profit undertaking and that — don’t laugh too loud — the Leisure and Cultural Services Department will set up an advisory committee with “experts and community personalities” to help manage the project.

Apparently, New World has become a born-again non-profit organization, and it never entered the heads of the company’s management that the adjacent buildings it is busy putting up will in any way benefit from the project.

And, in case satire was not enough to cap off this week, the Department of Justice came up with that dish best served cold – otherwise known as revenge.

Justice delayed

On Thursday, three prominent student leaders were charged with offenses allegedly committed 11 months ago at the outset of the Occupy protests.

Only the willfully blind will seriously believe that politics has played no role in this matter.

The timing, nature of the charges and their selective nature wreaks of political manipulation by a regime that had resolved to ensure that the biggest challenge to its authority should not go unpunished.

This is not to say unlawful acts were not committed during the Occupy protests, but when they involved police beating up a protester, no charges have been laid.

Selective application of the law is a sure way of undermining rule of law.

Moreover the old legal adage “justice delayed is justice denied” has a real meaning here, as the timing of these cases was clearly maneuvered to suit a political agenda.

What a week!

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author