22 March 2019
Souvenirs for the 20th anniversary of the handover. An elderly man (inset) picks up carton boxes on the street. The handover anniversary is many things to many people. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook/HKSAR20
Souvenirs for the 20th anniversary of the handover. An elderly man (inset) picks up carton boxes on the street. The handover anniversary is many things to many people. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook/HKSAR20

Spending and brown-nosing – the perfect combination

The government is planning to spend about HK$690 millon on celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. This includes a mind-blowing allocation of HK$50 million for providing hospitality for state leaders (who will be in Hong Kong for no more than a couple of days) but does not include previously announced plans to equip the police with additional armored vehicles and longer range rubber bullets in preparation for these events.

It should also be noted that within this sum is almost HK$21 million for a special office to house the bureaucrats working on this project and there will be plenty of money for gala dinners and other VIP events where the usual suspects will hover around clinking champagne glasses and reaffirming their loyalty.

By the time this anniversary is over, the government will have spent 10 times more than the HK$69 million poured into the 10th anniversary celebrations. Even allowing for inflation, this is a staggering increase, presumably based on the interesting assumption that things are 10 times better today than they were in 2007.

Bearing in mind the billions of dollars devoted to cross-border projects, which seem to incur endless cost overruns, it may be thought that a “mere” HK$690 million is small change.

However, compare and contrast this HK$690 million with money allocated from the public purse for various, infinitely more pressing matters. In last year’s budget, for example, the sum of HK$180 million was allocated to a support scheme that covers 20,000 disadvantaged people, in other words a sum equivalent to about a third of the money being dished out for the anniversary celebrations. By coincidence, the same sum was put aside for children with special needs and disabilities.

When it comes to helping those right at the bottom of the pile, the seemingly unlimited amount of cash in the public coffers quickly dries up.

A tragic example of this is the decision to scrap a pilot scheme designed to provide dental care for patients with mental and physical disabilities.

Called Loving Smiles Services, the pilot scheme not only remained within its modest budget but attracted far more users than anticipated. Now, without giving any reason, the government announced that these services will be withdrawn in June.

This cruel decision has received little publicity but will have a huge impact on the lives of those who have found it very hard to receive any kind of dental care before the pilot scheme was initiated.

It should also be pointed out that there are only 11 public dental clinics in the whole of Hong Kong; like other government clinics they are grossly overcrowded but this does not trouble the grand people who would never think of going near these places.

They are far more anxious to please their friends in the business world which helps to explain why, for example, last year the government decided to waive the business registration fee for 1.3 million businesses, with a loss of revenue amounting to HK$2.5 billion.

When it comes to basic provision for the needs of the so-called underclass, especially the 20 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, we hear grand statements about fiscal prudence and the need not to develop a dependency mentality in society.

We hear none of this when money appears to be readily available to supply champagne for the government elite or to refurbish their premises time and again.

The cascade of cash that will be poured into the 20th anniversary celebrations is nothing short of a disgrace but in the eyes of the government it’s a price worth paying for brown-nosing the high-ups in Beijing who expect nothing but the best for their cadres.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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