I remember the first time when I was scheduled to meet with Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the then Secretary for Development, as the convener of an industrial building artists concern group, she was late for that meeting.
When she finally showed up, she was dressed in black, poker-faced and obviously unimpressed.
As she sat down at the conference table, she said: “I dressed in black today because I have to go to a funeral later. A fireman was killed in action when trying to put out a blaze in an industrial building in Cheung Sha Wan.”
And then there was a long moment of silence.
Well, citizens can perhaps now judge for themselves as to whether Lam, now the Chief Secretary, is really that concerned about peoples’ lives, given how she came across during the lead contamination scandal in our public housing estates last year.
The truth is that whenever there is a major accident, the government always tries to play the guardian and take sweeping actions in a high-profile way.
The moves are aimed at letting the public know that the administration is addressing the problem, and above all, cast itself as being righteous.
Hence, I was not at all surprised when the administration shamelessly lambasted “unlawful” activities in industrial buildings in the wake of last month’s Kowloon Bay blaze and announced that it would enforce the law with no leniency starting from August 29.
I call the government shameless, because it didn’t address the issue of firefighters’ inadequate equipment, fire installations in industrial buildings, and questions as to whether firefighters were given wrong orders during the operation.
Instead, the government demonized tenants of industrial buildings and put the blame on them, so that it can swing public opinion its way and get its job done.
Also shameless is that the government didn’t even bother to mention how they will relocate the tenants in these industrial buildings, be they art galleries, piano rooms, restaurants, bookstores, dancing schools or indoor sports venues, because it just doesn’t care.
It is estimated that there are now more than 10,000 industrial building units that have been converted for non-industrial use. It would be a daunting task to take them out one by one. Therefore, many believe the government is just trying to bluff it out.
We all grieve the loss of two brave fire fighters. However, that doesn’t mean the administration can use that as a pretext to declare open season on small business owners who were forced into industrial buildings because of the unchecked surge in rents.
What the government should do is address the needs of all major stakeholders, rather than look for scapegoats.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 25.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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