22 October 2016
Hong Kong's leader CY Leung can take some lessons from Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (R) with regard to adherence to rules and procedures. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong's leader CY Leung can take some lessons from Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (R) with regard to adherence to rules and procedures. Photo: HKEJ

What Hong Kong’s Leung can learn from Taipei mayor

Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a doctor at the National Taiwan University Hospital and a professor at National Taiwan University College of Medicine, was elected the mayor of Taipei in late 2014.

As a surgeon Ko had been known for reposing faith in standard operating procedures (SOP) in a bid to achieve consistent and good results.

After taking the Taipei mayorship, he started managing the city affairs with the same mindset, aiming to improve the efficiency of the governing team.

Now, one-and-a-half years into his term, comments regarding his leadership have been mixed. Some observers praise him highly, while some criticize that there has been lack of democracy under his administration.

SOP generally refers to a set of step-by-step instructions created to allow everyone, even the layman, to carry out complicated operations with ease. The purpose is to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance.

The approach doesn’t necessarily imply rigid control, Ko says, insisting that it allows flexibility and amendments.

But for effective governance under the principle of SOP, it should be spearheaded by a trustworthy leader who makes fast and accurate decisions.

Now, let’s move the discussion to Hong Kong. 

The territory has evolved into a world-class city, building its success on the back of numerous solid, open and transparent systems.

Each system outlines its directions, while the corresponding SOP represents a way for the executive to realize the goals. People who participate in a system should uphold and respect the beliefs and procedures prescribed.

The recent “bag-gate” incident involving Hong Kong’s first family would represent a case of the rule of man over the rule of law, disrespecting the existing system and protocol.

As rules were bent to enable a left-behind bag to be delivered to Chief Executive CY Leung’s daughter inside a restricted area in the airport, it has shaken the faith of Hong Kong people about the sanctity of local laws.

A well-established system and standard operating procedures at the airport were given the go-by just because of the exceptional social status and power of the Leung family.

The incident suggests that rule of law — the essence to Hong Kong’s prosperity — may have got eroded slowly over the years and is now on its verge of getting destroyed.

To add insult to injury, a pro-government lawmaker, Ip Kwok-him, has called for a review and possible amendment of the existing luggage policies at the airport.

Ip’s suggestion, in fact, has nothing to do with the need for flexibility and amendments to a SOP.

What he was doing was trying to divert the public attention and drive the discussion away from Leung and his family over the issue of potential abuse of power.

What is special about Ko’s version of SOP is that it stresses not only on the procedure, but also on the speed, determination and accuracy of the implementation.

When Taipei voters were desperate for change, Ko — who was an authoritative figure in his profession and contested as an independent candidate — was the perfect choice.

As for the case in Hong Kong, the city’s leader has never really secured the trust of most locals right from the beginning.

Though Hong Kong has standard operating procedures in all its systems, we can’t expect good results as the person responsible for safeguarding the rules is himself causing many problems.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 21.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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