Why Hong Kong is falling behind neighboring cities

May 03, 2019 15:54
Hong Kong's civil service has earned the reputation of being professional, meritocratic, honest and efficient. Photo: Reuters

Our officials have been unable to boost the city’s economy or address key issues such as the housing shortage because most of them do not have a business background.

As a result, Asia's world city has been falling behind our neighboring cities.

During the British colonial rule, the governor was appointed by the British monarch while administrative duties were mainly performed by local civil servants.

Hong Kong's civil service has earned the reputation of being professional, meritocratic, honest and efficient. Indeed, it has become a real asset of the city.

During the 1997 reunification, the focus was still on Hong Kong’s global competitiveness, and how the city could safeguard its edge. Maintaining a strong civil service team is deemed a key advantage.

In order to ensure a smooth handover, the governing team was largely unchanged. The only new faces were Tung Chee-hwa as the chief executive and Elsie Leung Oi-sie as the justice secretary.

In 2002, during his second term, Tung introduced the ministerial system in an attempt to run a more politically accountable government. He appointed people outside the civil service as principal officials.

When Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor became chief executive, she formed a ruling team with more than half coming from the civil service while the rest were largely professionals and almost none from the business sector.

The biggest difference between the private sector and the government is their attitude towards cost control.

While the private sector focuses on meeting budgets and deadlines, public work projects are known for delays and cost overruns.

Some property development plans, for example, often have to undergo endless consultations. When there are objections to a project, officials tend to shy away from confrontation or intervention.

In the case of the housing shortage, citizens suffer as home prices continue to escalate.

When every incident is excessively politicalized, economic progress will be compromised.

This is probably the reason behind the shock defeat of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump two years ago.  Voters have become tired of political rhetoric and demanded solid measures to improve their living standards.

History may repeat itself in Taiwan.

The ruling party’s poor relationship with the mainland has led to a sluggish economy. The popularity of Kuomintang politician Han Kuo-yu, who has been advocating economic revival, and Terry Gou, founder of Foxconn who has announced his plan to run for the president, speaks volumes about the Taiwanese desire for a brighter economic future.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 27

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor