The great thing about other folks’ money is that you can spend it freely without it burning any kind of hole in your own pocket.
Moreover, if you can spend large amounts and curry favor with your bosses, well, what could be better?
No wonder that grin on the face of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has rarely been wider because in the space of just days he has managed to override all the usual tiresome processes of government and pour billions into the new Lok Ma Chau high-tech hub to be established with the Shenzhen government.
Meanwhile, his yet-to-be-anointed successor Carrie Lam has been scurrying around Beijing, securing a deal to establish an offshoot of the Palace Museum in the grounds of one of the greatest vanity projects of them all – the West Kowloon Cultural District.
No matter that it was not conceived for this purpose – what really matters is that Beijing is very pleased to have it there.
Even if we set aside the politics of the government’s two latest mega-projects, admittedly not an easy task, we are still left with the troubling mindset of an administration that seems to think that everything that is big is beautiful.
And although it is flush with taxpayer’s money it seems loath to spend it on projects that will actually impact the lives of ordinary people.
Instead, literally billions and billions of dollars are being poured into schemes designed to please the bosses in Beijing because they focus on greater integration with the mainland.
Then there are the great big vanity projects which leading bureaucrats believe will serve as memorials to their glory.
In between all this are some genuinely useful infrastructure projects, principally expanding the MTR system, but they seem to be overshadowed by anything that has the label “cross-border” attached to its coattails.
The Lok Ma Chau project is a telling example of the bureaucratic mind at work.
Setting aside its political ramifications, we yet again are presented with officials who believe that the key to technological development is the guiding hand of government, and they really get off on the idea of having budding technologists gathered in one place under state supervision.
Hong Kong, of course, has form in this sphere, having dished out prime land for the development of Cyberport – a property development thinly disguised as a high-tech hub.
Then there is the Science Park near Sha Tin which has succeeded in putting Hong Kong on the global technology map. However, the map in question is only to be found for local sale as the rest of the world seems blissfully unaware that this (still expanding) monument to bureaucratic indulgence is of any significance.
It’s not just technological development but all manner of other things that can benefit far more from modest highly-targeted expenditure on a myriad of projects but they would not involve fancy signing ceremonies and, well, they just lack the required glamor that bureaucrats crave.
Meanwhile, even more billions have been poured into much delayed cross-border transportation links that make no economic sense whatsoever.
On the one hand, we have the bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai which will not even be open to the majority of motorists because they lack the cross-border number plates that are dished out to the chosen few by mainland authorities.
And on the other hand is a new rail link to Shenzhen and Guangzhou substituting a perfectly usable rail link that already exists.
If you really want to have a laugh about government transportation expertise, go look at the very costly cruise terminal lying forlorn off the Kowloon coastline, which is usually empty and is only occasionally filled by vessels offered enormous incentives to go there.
Meanwhile, a staggering 20 percent of the population lives in poverty, that number rises to 30 percent among the elderly, the public health system is staggering under a lack of resources, decent housing remains a distant dream for many and we are nowhere close to achieving a decent universal pension system.
Compare the big projects of today with those of the old regime. In the 1950s and ’60s public money was largely spent on ensuring better water supply and public housing.
The next decade saw great developments of new towns, the MTR and widespread slope safety measures.
Fast forward to the end of the colonial era and the bureaucrats were already turning their attention to the needs of the rich, building a better airport and catering to the poor by way of one-off handouts but no long-term measures.
This madness has got to stop but there is no sign of that happening.
My advice to any Hong Kong citizen is to make sure you are born to well-heeled parents because if you are careless enough not to have done so the government most certainly will not be there for you.
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