22 April 2019
How can it be that John Tsang (left) and Carrie Lam so fundamentally disagreed with some government policies, yet remained in office while those policies were being introduced? Photo: HKEJ
How can it be that John Tsang (left) and Carrie Lam so fundamentally disagreed with some government policies, yet remained in office while those policies were being introduced? Photo: HKEJ

What the phony election campaign has inadvertently revealed

The Carrie Lam Selection Process, which is described by some people as the Chief Executive Election, has thrown up some remarkable insights into how Hong Kong has been governed under the leadership of Leung Chun-ying.

These insights either confirm an almost unbelievable level of dysfunctionality at the heart of government or a level of mendacity among its leaders that is truly shocking.

This has come to light as the two main contenders in the phony election campaign vie to explain why they are different from the deeply unpopular Leung.

Although Lam has the Mandate of Heaven or whatever the backing of the Chinese Communist Party is called these days, she is going through the farce of campaigning against her main rival John Tsang.

Just weeks ago they were the most senior members of the same government but to hear them speak now you would imagine that they had no contact while in office and that they somehow came from different administrations.

Lam, who is more direct in her attacks on Tsang, accuses him of being miserly in his budgets and hoarding cash that is badly needed for social purposes.

Tsang in turn has suddenly discovered that the government’s housing plans fell far short of expectations and that a number of other things were wrong with the administration he served, including the widely hated TSA primary school tests that not once but twice have been introduced by the current administration.

So, how can it be that the government’s second and third most senior officials so fundamentally disagreed with its policies, yet remained in office while they were being introduced?

None of the possible explanations reflect well on the government but let us try and see what could be.

First up, it is entirely possible that Leung operates in a dictatorial style, not countenancing any disagreement among his ministers. Therefore, those who voiced opposition were told to shut up.

Secondly, it is also possible that the government is so dysfunctional that when, for example, the finance secretary draws up the annual budget other ministers have no input and therefore have no way of influencing its outcome.

Thirdly, the government is so compartmentalized that even when crucial matters such as education and housing are under discussion, only ministers with direct departmental responsibility know what is going on while others are left out of the loop.

Maybe none of the above is correct and both Lam and Tsang are simply two-faced, happy to go along with bad government policies while they were on the payroll, but once out of office, feeling free to criticize decisions for which they at least nominally shared responsibility.

We will probably never know how this black hole government actually goes about its business but we now know that its most senior officials were either complicit in decisions they themselves knew to be bad or simply lacked the guts to stand up for what they believed in.

Good governance is all about vigorous discussion leading to collective responsibility for decisions collectively made.

Those who aspire to leadership positions within government need, as a very minimum, to demonstrate a willingness to stand up for what they believe in, even if it costs them their jobs.

We must therefore conclude that the Leung administration’s way of doing business is deeply flawed.

So, something useful has come out from this otherwise absurd “election campaign”. It may not be a great revelation but it inadvertently confirms what many people believe about the way Hong Kong is governed.

It would be good to say that these revelations will lead to a better form of governance but as Lam is all but certain to be the next chief executive, we can be pretty sure that it will be business as usual.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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