Many see the Wang Chau fiasco as yet another example of collusion between government and big business to the detriment of the public.
Or is it?
I am no apologist for the government but whenever it undertakes a policy initiative, it has to deal with various stakeholders with conflicting interests.
In many cases, it comes down to either collusion or partnership.
The government’s ability to skillfully and impartially handle its relations with different stakeholders often determines whether it’s one or the other.
In the case of Wang Chau, I don’t think the government has been handling its relations with stakeholders very smartly and skillfully, at least from the point of view of the media and the public.
For example, it claims that it will first build 4,000 flats on land that is already occupied by villagers in the first phase of development and then it will build the remaining 13,000 on uninhabited brownfield sites in the following phases.
From a town planner’s perspective, it might sound fair enough, but from the public point of view, such arrangements give the impression that the administration is in cahoots with powerful clan leaders who own these brownfield sites and operate lucrative businesses on them such as container yards and parking lots.
In fact, the PR disaster that is now plaguing the government could have been avoided if it had allowed the project more transparency and been more forthcoming about all the related details.
To avoid suspicions of collusion with vested interests, the administration should have played “honest broker” throughout the program and helped all sides.
It should also have given all major stakeholders an equal opportunity to be heard, rather than collecting views through some sneaky “soft-lobbying” with powerful clan leaders.
The government has shown it’s out of touch with mounting public demand for more accountability.
It has only itself to blame for the public backlash against the project and itself.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 20
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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