Hypocrisy, evasion, incompetence and indifference

August 08, 2015 08:06
More and more housing estates are being found to have lead-contaminated supplies, but Leung Chun-ying's administration continues to adopt a 'What, me worry?'approach. Photo: HKEJ

It is hard to think of a more compelling example of the Leung administration’s hypocrisy than the lead-in-water scandal, which is not going to disappear any time soon.

Officials have moved from denial to evasion to pathetic attempts at pointing the finger of blame away from themselves.

On the way, they have manifested a breathtaking level of incompetence, heart-wrenchingly mirrored by indifference to the scandal’s victims, who originally appeared to be confined to residents of public housing.

However, there is now evidence of lead contamination in private housing estates, which means that wealthier citizens have moved into the firing line.

This is far more likely to concern the bureaucrats than mere ordinary people did.

To understand what’s happening and why it is quite so bad, we need to reel back a couple of months to the aftermath of the pro-government allies’ major cock-up in the legislature, which led to a resounding defeat for the so-called constitutional reform proposals.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his acolytes were clearly embarrassed but sought to bury their embarrassment in firm declarations that they would turn over a new leaf by focusing on livelihood and social issues and waste no more time on Hong Kong’s constitutional development.

To kick things off, there was a small flurry of announcements about one–off payments of so called fruit money for the elderly and the construction of two new care centres for senior citizens.

This was accompanied by a slew of other measures that have long been in the pipeline, including a pay rise for district councilors, many of whom are foot soldiers for the pro-government camp.

The message was clear: democracy has been put on hold, the democracy movement will be ignored, but if the people behave, there will be crumbs available from the table where civil servants dine.

Leung did not have to wait long for the livelihood policy’s first major challenge, when Democratic Party legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan revealed tests showing that residents at a public housing estate were being poisoned by lead-contaminated water supplies.

At first, these dangers were played down, and then the usual suspects from the pro-government camp were trotted out to accuse her of playing politics by raising the issue.

They later went further by mobilizing in the legislature to thwart a plan to investigate this matter.

Another attempt is underway to get legislators to discuss this during their summer break, but it seems that only the democrats are interested in this plan.

From the start of this fiasco, the government devoted its resources to finding ways to place the blame for the entire scandal on a small-time plumber.

In part, this was to take the heat off blundering officials, but the administration was also keen to ensure that the big companies responsible for building these estates were not held to blame.

It is hardly a coincidence that the company at the heart of this scandal is China State Construction International Holdings Ltd., and then there’s the Shui On Group, controlled by one of the ubiquitous tycoons who must be protected at all times.

So far, so bad, but next came the usual government practice of giving an impression of activity to cover its lack of real activity.

To this end, it set up no fewer than three committees to look into the scandal.

The first one recently got up and running and appears to be in safe hands, because its chairman has already made it clear that it will not be trying to finger those responsible for this mess.

Meanwhile, the government bleats about having insufficient resources to conduct more widespread water tests despite the fact that these tests are extremely simple and that if the administration had the smallest degree of serious intent to mobilize its resources, it could do so.

Now that the problem is no longer confined to the less well off, these resources might well materialize.

However doing something practical, such as changing pipes or even ensuring a much bigger supply of safe water, is taking second place to the usual buck passing inside government, with the Water Supplies Department, the Housing Department, the Home Affairs Bureau and any number of other bureaucracies focusing on their prime task of ensuring that someone else is to blame.

So, this is what happens when the CY Leung administration says it will give priority to livelihood issues.

Whether malice or simple incompetence lies at the heart of this debacle, the bottom line is the same – a total shambles.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author