Take me to your leader

January 29, 2018 10:07
Despite being a rich city, Hong Kong has a substantial portion of its population living in dismal, cramped conditions. Authorities are accused of not doing enough to resolve the common man’s woes. Photo: Bloomberg

When I was an officer cadet, we were given a tactical situation and directed to come up with a solution. After we had all given our answers I asked my company commander Major Langley "What was the correct way?"

"The way that worked" -- was his pragmatic response.

I remember these words when I cast an increasingly critical eye over the leadership of Hong Kong.

How many, if any of them, are effective at making things work for their fellow citizens?

In other words, how many of our rulers are fit for purpose?

In virtually every other politico-economic entity – I avoid use of the word 'state' lest I incense the sans-culottes of the Communist Party of China – the legislators struggle to find the money to pay for the basic needs of a modern civilized society. I do not include lunatic follies like the stable genius Trump’s Mexican wall but the genuine elements: security, health, education, food, employment and a justice system.

No such struggle inhibits the government of the Hong Kong S.A.R., which enjoys an embarrassment of riches.

How is it that we are signed up to bridges to nowhere and a high speed rail link that needs a railway station the size of several football pitches, all of which at a cost of multi-billions of dollars and utilization of land, land for which there is a desperate prior need to provide affordable housing for the ordinary people of Hong Kong?

There are insufficient doctors and nurses to staff all the existing public hospitals, let alone the new and proposed hospitals whose wards will have to remain closed. Hong Kong’s medical fraternity is opposed to admitting doctors from other jurisdictions, so the problem cannot be alleviated in this way even though the government could overrule the doctors.

The poor remuneration for doctors in the public service, especially at the lower levels, acts as an incentive for them to depart into the private health sector. So why not increase their salaries? Is the health of the people of Hong Kong a lower priority than a railway station? Are we embarked upon our own lunatic follies?

We have an increasingly ageing population for whom decent elderly care homes need to be provided. The condition of many of them is a disgrace and judging by the cases that come to light, oversight is very far from adequate.

The percentage of the population living in sub-divided flats is shocking in a city as wealthy as this. The associated increased health and fire risks pose a present and pressing danger.

More and more young people of working age are forced to live at home because they cannot afford to rent and the prospect of buying is just a pipe dream.

The S.A.R. government is deeply in hock to the property developers, ensuring that the vast tracts of their land banks will remain undeveloped until obscene levels of profit can be exacted from them. Does anyone see a real prospect of Mrs. Lam or any other of her assorted mugwumps standing up to the titans of New World, Sun Hung Kai and their kith and kin?

Of the incredible profits creamed off real property developments, how much is ploughed back into Hong Kong? It is true that from time to time a property tycoon makes a donation to construct a building bearing his name but this is narcissistic legacy creation, with little relation to altruism.

We have become inured to Hong Kong's most senior government executives' self-abasement before the imperious bosses in Beijing but what possible justification can there be for these rubber vertebrates voluntarily leaning backwards before the property mandarins?

Levying exponentially increasing rates for unoccupied properties could go some way to releasing land and housing but that sort of solution is gone with the wind; one can almost hear Carrie Lam’s imitation of Rhett Butler's pronouncement: "Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn".

So, at a time when the pressure on accommodation for the elderly and the young workforce is at crisis levels, the government is building a “Stately pleasure dome…measureless to man” to house a handful of PRC immigration and customs officers. Will it be named "Kublai Khan Station"?

Doubtless Carrie Lam and her propaganda department will distribute glossy photographs of the vast expanse of KK Station and the beautiful High Speed railway engines to comfort all those patients waiting in hospital corridors, tenants stuffed into cupboard spaces and elderly folk virtually imprisoned in their - forgive the laughably contradictory term - 'care' homes.

The appalling fact is that the government is dysfunctional, this is Hong Kong not Xanadu; in Major Langley’s words 'it doesn’t work'. Carrie Lam would never have been commissioned in my day.

The definition of a leader is a person who knows what to do in a given situation and then goes on and does it.

As the head of a government that is going down the pan, Mrs. Lam had better find out where to buy a toilet roll. She may wear the title and draw the pay and emoluments but for certain sure she does not have the requisite qualities to lead Hong Kong, or fairyland for that matter.

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Queen's Counsel