These bureaucrats really should be ashamed of themselves

April 20, 2018 17:30
Hong Kong's bureaucrats seem to believe their job is to meticulously follow a set of rules regardless of how absurd they may be, critics say. Photo: Bloomberg

After an enormous public outcry the brainless bureaucrats who threatened to prosecute drivers forced to help the police in a car chase had to withdraw their threats of punishment and apologize.

This farrago followed an incident last February when police officers ordered hapless motorists to assist them in slowing a vehicle speeding along the Sha Tin Highway. This was a high-risk chase ending with the deaths of the driver and passenger in the car pursued by the police.

Serious questions also arose over whether the police had the authority or indeed the moral right to involve hapless civilians in this incident that caused considerable damage to their vehicles and injury to one of those forced to take part.

That it should have been followed by a threat of prosecution is hard to believe yet that’s what happened and was justified in word perfect bureaucratese by some idiot police spokesperson who told media outlets that there was a legal need to issue intended prosecutions notices at the early stage of a traffic investigation and that these notices are issued to all drivers involved.

My, oh my, what were they thinking? Normal people find it hard to adjust to the mindset of bureaucrats who sincerely believe that their job is to meticulously follow a set of rules regardless of how absurd they are.

This incident is rather more serious than your average piece of bureaucratic nonsense but it encapsulates the way these people operate. Their main priority is to ensure that they follow copious procedures to cover their backsides.

They may actually know that these procedures are absurd, but still set this knowledge aside in a bid to avoid getting in trouble with their bosses.

The bosses in turn may or may not know that the system they preside over has serious problems but they just love a long chain of responsibility, involving lots and lots of procedures, so that if anything goes wrong they can reach lower down the line to apportion blame.

And so a vicious or maybe a limp cycle is perpetuated where regulations that are not fit for purpose remain in place, where initiative taken to ignore the redundant regulations is frowned upon and where, somewhere in all this, the hapless public is left frustrated and seriously inconvenienced.

On a much smaller scale than this vehicle chase fiasco I recently had the experience of helping a friend with a government application for a student loan.

The ghastly little bureaucrat dealing with this asked me to supply proof of income as I was acting as guarantor, this involved supplying a particular part of the official income tax demand.

It took a while to determine which part he meant but that was just the start of the problem, then there was the matter of a signature having been made not quite on the line – and thus rejected, then something was apparently not clear because of poor writing and then came the really absurd argument over proof of address.

The bureaucrat insisted that the income tax form issued by the government bearing my address was inadequate as proof because it was being used for another purpose. Thus another official document, two in fact, had to be produced for this purpose and so on. The matter has since been passed to yet another pen pusher who is holding things up because she is unhappy with the consistency of one of the many signatures I made during this laborious process.

What had been achieved here, aside from squandering vast amounts of time and adding to the dire waste of paper? Other than satisfying the bureaucratic machine the answer is that zilch was achieved.

We hear much talk about the need for bureaucratic reform but in a system where the so-called political leaders are in reality retired bureaucrats, whose entire work experience is derived from working for the civil service, the prospects for reform range from zero downwards.

Meanwhile don’t even get me started about what happens in the car parks of government buildings requiring permits for entry – suffice to say that I am very surprised that these car park attendants have not been subject to bodily harm, or maybe they have but the wrong form was filled in to report the incident.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author