Lack of 'reform spirit' shackling Hong Kong in tech era

April 26, 2018 11:51
Government bureaucrats in Hong Kong are so resistant to new ideas, challenges and inventions for fear of making mistakes. Photo: Bloomberg

Throughout ancient and modern Chinese history, political leaders who embarked on bold reforms often ended up either dead or in jail.

In Hong Kong, government bureaucrats are so resistant to new ideas, challenges and inventions for fear of making mistakes.

One example is the electric unicycle or electric bicycle, which has long been used in foreign countries.

The invention, which is actually not new anymore, is still banned from roads in the city because our bureaucrats insist that they fall under the category of motor vehicles.

Under the existing law, all motor vehicles must be registered with the Transport Department before they can be put to use on Hong Kong’s roads.

But while authorities have taken an unreasonably tough stance on electric unicycles and bikes, they simply look the other way when it comes to electric wheelchairs for the disabled.

Another example is the drone, the unmanned aircraft system equipped with a camera, which has become all the rage across the world.

Unfortunately, despite its wide range of brands and models as well as its affordable prices, there isn’t a single piece of legislation in Hong Kong to regulate its use.

Perhaps the reason is that since drones have raised so many questions about privacy, aviation security and even potential terrorist threat, our government bureaucrats would rather not touch on the issue in order to avoid trouble.

And thanks to the bureaucrats' rigid mindset, there is no end in sight for the public consultations on drones. As a result, even to this day Hong Kong citizens still cannot operate these “new” inventions publicly and legally.

Amid this lack of "reform spirit" and courage among our government decision-makers to meet new challenges, our city is lagging further and further behind other countries and regions in this era of technology.

In 2002, then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa introduced the Principal Officials Accountability System in a bid to rejuvenate our government bureaucracy and change the rigid mindset of our civil servants.

Unfortunately, after so many years, it appears our bureaucrats have remained anything but receptive to new ideas and things.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 14

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor