24 April 2019
Central to Chris Patten’s governing success in Hong Kong was his strong command of the trust of Hong Kong people and the civil servants. Photo: HKEJ
Central to Chris Patten’s governing success in Hong Kong was his strong command of the trust of Hong Kong people and the civil servants. Photo: HKEJ

Chris Patten’s advice on governance continues to resonate

During his recent visit to Hong Kong, former British colonial governor Chris Patten cited a famous Confucian quote from the ancient Chinese classic, the Analects, in a speech at an academic forum.

The quote states that “the common people’s trust in their ruler is the cornerstone of any effective governance”.

According to Patten, effective governance has four criteria — rule of law, accountability of the government, efficiency of the government and political stability of society.

As far as rule of law is concerned, Patten said it involves public obedience to the law and judicial independence which he believes is the foundation of Hong Kong’s continued prosperity and stability.

As to accountability, Patten said it cannot be achieved unless there is a fair and equal electoral system in place.

Patten praised the civil service for being efficient compared with the British civil service and those in some European countries in which he has worked.

Lastly, Patten said the key to political stability is the government’s sensitivity to the needs and wishes of the people.

He also said free speech, the right to protest non-violently and the autonomy of our universities must also be safeguarded.

Unfortunately, almost 20 years into the return of sovereignty to China, Hong Kong has seen an across-the-board regression by Patten’s standards.

Among the four aspects, despite the National People’s Congress Standing Committee interpretation of the Basic Law and the continued criticism of our court’s decision by certain pro-establishment heavyweights, our judicial system is still largely independent and our citizens still hold our judges in high regard.

Accountability in our civil service has been seriously weakened since the government introduced the political appointment system in 2002.

Worse, some political appointees often blame civil servants whenever something goes wrong.

As a result, many civil servants have often found themselves walking on thin ice when fulfilling their duties, hence the low morale and deteriorating efficiency of our civil service.

To make things worse, the fact that our civil servants are often asked to carry out some controversial political tasks such as barring pro-independence candidates from running in the Legco election has also taken a serious toll on the longstanding and hard-earned impartiality of our civil service.

When it comes to political stability Hong Kong is witnessing an unprecedented polarization and division.

This is compounded by the fact that the pro-establishment camp is throwing its weight around in our legislature, even though many of them were elected to Legco through small circle election and have no public mandate.

Instead of extending the olive branch, the government and the pro-establishment camp seem to have joined forces and come aggressively after other pro-democracy lawmakers with a take-no-prisoners attitude after the Youngspiration duo were disqualified from office.

This further exacerbated the already deep divisions and confrontations in society.

The reason Chris Patten remains highly popular nearly 20 years after he left office is that he is still able to command the trust of Hong Kong people.

Many people are nostalgic about the good old days under Patten when society was far more peaceful and harmonious.

Sadly, among the three chief executives since 1997, only Donald Tsang managed to command roughly the same degree of trust among our citizens as Patten did, but for a very brief period of time.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 30

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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