21 October 2016
Hong Kong's arts and culture sector is suffering from the marketization of government services. That's how Hong Kong got into a vicious circle. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong's arts and culture sector is suffering from the marketization of government services. That's how Hong Kong got into a vicious circle. Photo: HKEJ

Thanks to ruthless govt outsourcing, we have a neoliberal farce

That’s how Hong Kong got into a vicious circle — our government, arguably too big, is downsized by outsourcing public services.

Yet, the mid-level supervisory manpower inside the government expands for the sake of monitoring the third-party contractors and outsourced services.

However, whenever something goes wrong, the government would say their hands are tied with regard to contractors’ private business decisions, while the contractors would claim that all they have done is merely follow government guidelines.

In simpler words, no parties need to shoulder any responsibilities but only Hong Kong residents would suffer from the worsening services under a big but invisible government.

Although the government is still subsidizing public services, the virtue of serving the welfare or well-being of the general public by these services has been first degraded and then sacrificed.

Public sectors like healthcare, education and social welfare are getting more privatized and ruled by market logic.

Mainland patients have been competing with local residents for valuable and limited healthcare resources such as blood and topnotch surgical services in both private and public hospitals.

Universities in Hong Kong are fulfilling bureaucratic measurements rather than educating future pillars.

Professors and lecturers are pushed for thesis productions to boost university rankings. Students have to join exchange trips and participate in various social services to enrich their portfolios.

Social welfare service units and special schools have to accept lump sum grant arrangements, in which the organizations go to any length to cut costs inhumanely — be it harsher contractual terms or part-time employment for staffers — thanks to limited funding.

Hong Kong’s arts and culture sector is suffering the same fate.

Performing groups have to be corporatized and spend a fortune on auditor’s reports instead of submitting reports and statement of expenses after each production.

The one-off lump sum grant is unfavorable to the growth and development of performing groups.

Unlike selling other commodities, pure art or ideology is something intangible and difficult to measure its influence.

Such efforts are taken into monitoring and evaluating finance, which contains quantifiable and measurable items but that means another cycle of lavishing money, namely administration fee, consultation fee, supervisory fee, research fee and so on and so forth.

The government should not overwhelm performing groups by outsourced supervision and audits in issuing grants.

Only mutual trust and understanding from both parties could contribute success to the projects.

Cultural bureaus around the world often have cultural officers with the expertise to make judgment calls.

It is far more effective than wasting money on some unhelpful evaluations.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 2.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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