Date
14 October 2019
Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a news conference on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters
Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a news conference on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

Carrie and the waxworks can’t even give away money

If, as Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), unconvincingly claims it was actually her own idea to evoke emergency powers to introduce the face mask law, she and her waxwork officials are way more stupid or indeed more reckless than anyone anticipated.

Mrs Lam claimed the law was needed to reduce the level of violence but its main impact was, as she admitted, to notch it up to a new level. Meanwhile, the law has proved to be unenforceable as it has been openly flouted, leading to a few highly selective prosecutions, undermining the legal system by introducing the nightmare of selective application.

Yet, and this is what takes the breath away, a day after all hell was let loose, Mrs Lam claimed that she had been vindicated because the escalating level of violence demonstrated the “very reason” why the law was introduced in the first place.

The classic tongue-in-check explanation for the Yiddish word chutzpah (meaning brazen cheek) comes with the plea for mitigation for a murderer who has killed both his parents. His lawyers ask the court for leniency on grounds that the defendant is an orphan. The CENO appears intent on taking this definition of chutzpah that bit further.

Mrs Lam probably lost touch with reality some time ago and never had more than a scintilla of credibility to begin with but has now expunged any lingering doubt over her suitability to put together a cupcake party on a wet Wednesday.

The case against her, however, goes deeper and in a more worrying direction because in order to do what she is doing she has been forced to mislead, dissemble and worse.

Let’s start with dissembling. When directly asked whether she had been instructed or had consulted with the Chinese government over the new law, she flatly denied having discussed this matter with “central government officials in Beijing”, however pointedly did not say whether discussions of this kind were held in Shenzhen. In so doing she carefully omitted to mention that she came back from a visit to Beijing via Shenzhen where Chinese officials have established a command center overseeing Beijing’s response to the crisis.

Meanwhile, what happened to the solemn assurance that the Hong Kong government gave to the United Nations Human Rights Committee back in 1999 when it unequivocally promised that the emergency regulations would never be evoked unless they had gone through the legislature?

Once meandering down the slippery slope of mendacity, the CENO cannot stop herself as was seen when she triumphantly announced that the courts had confirmed the legality of her actions. In fact, the High Court did nothing of the kind; it simply refused to issue an interim injunction to put the law on hold pending an emergency hearing on the substance of the matter.

But facts in official circles count for very little these days. As memory seems to be in short supply, let’s go back to Sept. 30 when Senior Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung, who heads the police public relations operation, gave very specific warnings about what would happen the following day, National Day. 

He said: “We have got intelligence suggesting that some hardcore, violent protesters are inciting others, including those with suicidal tendencies, to commit extreme acts such as murdering the police, disguising themselves as police officers to kill others, and setting fire to petrol stations.”

It was, of course, total nonsense but may well have succeeded in its aim of discouraging peaceful protesters from going on the streets the following day.

However, there was a glimmer of honesty from, of all people, John Lee Ka-chiu , the Secretary for Security, who complained that “what is adding oil to violence is people’s support for these acts”. Well, that’s interesting because he seems to have actually realized that the government’s relentless campaign to depict the current crisis as being about violence is falling on deaf ears as people stubbornly insist that something needs to be done to actually address the causes of the protests.

Instead, the government is now spending its time dreaming up new forms of oppression that can be introduced under the umbrella of the emergency laws.

The cheerleaders for autocracy who pressed for the introduction of these laws are now suggesting, among other things, the suspension of district elections scheduled for next month, extending detention without charge, imposing curfews and the censoring social media. Inevitably, the enthusiasm for autocracy has been echoed by the Beijing government which issued a statement strongly hinting at the need for “more effective measures to immediately stop the violence and unrest”.

Only the maddest and baddest members of the pro-China camp want to see the violent suppression of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. However, there is only an armed response from the police to the protests and Hongkongers are being constantly reminded that troops, probably in the shape of the People’s Armed Police, can be poured across the border at any time.

Meanwhile, the government has spent most of the past four months in hiding and seems congenitally incapable of putting a foot right. One of its least impressive ministers, no small achievement among this bunch of waxworks, is Frank Chan Fan, allegedly responsible for transport. When half of the mass transit system was shut down, he described this as being “good for customers”. Presumably, when it was entirely shut down it was even better. Even satirists would find it hard to make this stuff up.

And if further confirmation were needed, we now know that this is a government that doesn’t even know how to give away money. About 12,000 applicants for the HK$4,000 offered under the Caring and Sharing Scheme, had their applications lost and have received nothing.

I have no crystal ball showing how all this will end but tend towards the old cliché of preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

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CG

Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author