29 January 2020
The Hong Kong government may not find it easy to bring things back to normal in the city following the extradition bill misadventure. Photo: Bloomberg
The Hong Kong government may not find it easy to bring things back to normal in the city following the extradition bill misadventure. Photo: Bloomberg

Govt needs to think beyond financial sops to soothe public anger

On Tuesday, a number of retired high-ranking government officials weighed in on the ongoing social unrest within Hong Kong in the wake of the extradition bill fiasco.

In a joint letter, the former senior officials called on the Carrie Lam administration to set up an independent commission of inquiry to look into the recent troubling events.

To allay concerns of the police being unfairly singled out in the investigation, the officials put forward a specific proposal with regard to the terms of reference of the inquiry panel.

As per their proposal, the commission should inquire whether “there were instances of the demonstrators (or members of the public) using excessive force or deploying deliberate tactics to provoke a clash with the Police”, as well as “consider and evaluate the appropriateness of the tactics employed and actions taken by the Police in handling the clashes”.

The retired bureau chiefs certainly have no difficulty speaking their mind publicly.

Nevertheless, for civil servants who are still serving within the government framework, they would inevitably have problems when it comes to expressing their views about current affairs.

Given this, some officials have resorted to anonymous online posts to make their views known on the perceived failures of the administration on the governance front.

Following a spontaneous “strike” mounted by a civil servant of the Home Affairs Bureau a couple of days ago as a protest against Sunday’s attacks in Yuen Long by suspected gangsters, a bunch of netizens who claimed themselves to be civil servants working at the Central Government Offices issued an open letter on the online forum LIHKG slamming Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for her remarks during a media interaction on Monday.

In their letter, they strongly criticized the chief executive for giving an impression, when answering reporters’ questions during a press conference, that she appeared to be treasuring the national emblem at Beijing’s Liaison Office far more than the personal safety of the people of Hong Kong.

They also questioned whether the current administration is actually serving Hongkongers or Beijing.

While demanding that the authorities hunt down the thugs involved in the Yuen Long attacks, the netizens also urged the administration to swiftly respond to the five demands put forward by the public, particularly complete withdrawal of the extradition bill and establishment of an independent inquiry into the police tactics on protesters.

A government source admitted that quite a number of servants are keeping a close eye on the ongoing political turmoil, and expressing their discontent over the state of affairs in the city.

Particularly, some young officials are said to be dismayed at what they perceive is a “state of anarchy” creeping into the city, and fearing that the troubles won’t end anytime soon.

An Administrative Officer of the government said candidly that Lam’s refusal to budge on withdrawal of te bill and setting up an independent inquiry has rendered it difficult for the government to move on, and the administration is likely to have a tough time in governing the city in the days ahead.

On Tuesday, New People’s Party chairwoman and Executive Councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee met with Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, during which she proposed that the government offer a one-off cash handout of HK$8,000 to all permanent residents of Hong Kong aged 18 or above.

Although Ip stressed that her suggestion has nothing to do with the current state of affairs in the city, news has got out that the government did indeed consider adopting various relief measures as a means to cool public anger and allow the city to move on.

Another government source said that if the administration has really decided to provide “sweeteners”, the initiative may be announced not by the chief executive herself, but by other principal officials.

Yet the problem is, even if the government decides to shower cash or other goodies on the public, it may not necessarily defuse the current social tensions. 

If Lam and her team don’t address the fundamental issues and act accordingly, chances are the firestorm of anger among the public, as well as within the civil service, will continue to rage, regardless of any financial sops.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.