In whom we place our trust

February 03, 2017 11:21
Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing is not indebted to anyone or any organization other than his commitment to the Hong Kong SAR. Photo: Facebook/Woo Kwok-hing

In many if not most respects, the task of selecting someone to be chief executive of Hong Kong should be akin to recruiting an employee for a job.

Curiously, though we are vaguely familiar with the job specifications, no-one has tried to identify those qualities which would make a candidate more or less suitable for the position.

In all probability this is likely to be the consequence of having a limited choice.

Yet for those electors who take their responsibilities seriously, surely a consideration of qualifying qualities is a fundamental exercise.

A broad-brush approach to the job specifications indicates that the position demands someone who will represent the best interests of the people of Hong Kong.

Objectively, the post was always a crown of thorns.

Given the increasing evidence of Beijing interfering in Hong Kong’s domestic affairs, the willingness to press our interests with the motherland courteously but firmly requires the skill of a diplomat accustomed to bridging conflicting positions without compromising his principles.

Domestically, the post is long overdue for a far-sighted visionary willing not just to listen but, so far as reasonably practicable, to reflect public opinion.

Successive administrations have occasionally paid lip service to public consultation, only to disregard it when it came to making a decision.

Engagement with the public is probably nowhere more necessary than with regard to public expenditure.

The scandalous waste of money on projects that bring little, if any, benefit to Hongkongers verges on the obscene.

A chief executive properly in touch with the reality of life in Hong Kong is a sine que non if we are to revive the flagging hopes of the young and meet the desperate needs of that sector of the community that has been subordinated for so long to the interests of property developers.

But this engagement with the community requires a formidable ability to grasp the details, wherein lies the devil.

A civil servant is, by virtue of his or her training and experience, ill-equipped for this mental exercise.

The civil service machine is cleverly designed to refine the most complex of issues down to a summary of one or at most two A4 pages on the strength of which the decisions are taken.

Compare and contrast that with the decision-making process of a barrister or a judge.

The lawyer must acquire the ability to identify the pertinent issues but this involves mastering the documentation and history involved in order to arrive at a decision which accurately reflects the justice of the case.

The contrast is stark: the civil servant has the issue distilled for him, his decision is remote from the detail whereas the judge must encompass the whole picture.

Next consider the mindset of the civil servant as against that of the barrister/judge.

The civil servant is an atom in a corporate body, his career depends upon a measure of subservience to his seniors and the survival mantra of the bureaucrat: “Do nothing lest anyone blame you.”

The bureaucrat must never risk contention or any conduct that would impact adversely on eventual retirement on a comfortable pension.

The judge’s decisions are all in the public arena, his independence is a cardinal tenet of his professional life, even at the risk of engendering criticism. It is a life lived under a microscope.

Which brings us full circle to a critical quality, essential for the holder of this high office: trust.

Out of the candidates, in whom can we repose trust?

The bureaucrat whose characteristics only surface in the latter stage of his/her career, like mushrooms after the rain?

Or the judge whose character has been open to examination from his earliest court appearance to his final judgment, the oak tree?

Neither Carrie Lam nor John Tsang ever made the transition from civil servant to political administrator.

Wrapped in the protective cocoon of their life-to-date roles in government, both are painfully and egregiously out of touch with the reality of the lives of ordinary Hong Kong people.

Just as Regina Ip tried, unsuccessfully, to conceal her visit to the Liaison Office, so Lam “doth protest too much” her independence from the local gauleiter.

Those electors who receive and will follow the directions emanating from the Liaison Office, irrespective of whether the instructions changed from Tsang to Lam or vice versa, ought to examine their consciences.

They, in turn, were elected to represent a Hong Kong constituency, not to jump spastically to their Beijing puppet masters.

K.H. Woo is his own and Hong Kong’s man, he is not indebted to anyone or any organization other than his commitment to the Hong Kong SAR. He is truly independent.

Both the young and the elderly with whom he has been in touch have already recognized his readiness to listen and to learn.

By their sorry history in office and by virtue of their training and mindset, none of the ex-civil servants have the qualities so necessary to lift Hong Kong out of the doldrums into which it is falling fast.

Is it too much to ask the electors to put aside their childish, selfish ways and vote into office a tried and trustworthy champion in K.H. Woo?

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Queen's Counsel