Useless hardly covers it for the Lam administration

February 21, 2020 18:41
Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a news conference on Feb. 14. Photo: CNSA

Is there no end to the wretched incompetence and stupidity of the waxworks who constitute the Hong Kong government?

Governance and leadership are tested in times of crisis. In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, this much is clear: the government has failed this test in an excruciating manner. But, where to start when enumerating the many aspects of this failure?

Let’s begin with farce. Last Wednesday, James Henry Lau Jr., who is apparently the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, was asked whether, in light of the crisis, listed companies doing business in the mainland would be able to defer their financial reporting. In response, he told astonished members of the Legislative Council that 70 percent of surgical masks on order could not be shipped.

Compounding what could have been no more than carelessness at a time when paying attention really matters, his spin doctor said the problem was that when Lau answered the question, he was focused on searching for masks on his phone. No wonder this government has so miserably failed to find mask supplies, if this is how they go about things.

Thank goodness that both private companies and non-governmental organizations are around to step in and source masks from overseas.

There is a massive job to be done here. Not only is there a desperate need for protective equipment but also for quarantine camps. Then there is the matter of fixing household water supply and drainage systems to block off a potent source of contamination.

Each of these issues was addressed in reports following the outbreak of SARS 17 years ago. Almost two decades is quite time enough for stocks to have been built up, for proper contingency plans for quarantine centers to have been made, and for the ever useless people who run the Buildings Department to have addressed the drainage issue.

Now we know what was done, it amounts to a big fat zero. Presumably, the muppets who run things in Hong Kong seriously believed that a viral epidemic could never reoccur.

Then there’s the shameful failure to help secure the exit of Hong Kong residents from Hubei province. Many other governments have acted decisively to bring their citizens home. The Hong Kong government, on the other hand, is busy wringing its hands and moaning about how difficult it is.

And look what happened when the government actually managed to help the Diamond Princess passengers fly home from Yokohama. Bearing in mind that the Japanese authorities were more than keen for them to leave, why did it require the Director of Immigration, the Undersecretary for Security, the Deputy Commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong and a large squad of other officials to fly out and be photographed allegedly taking part in the rescue?

The pretext for all this high-level manpower making the trip was that negotiations were required with Japanese officials, but an embarrassing lack of preparatory groundwork meant that no one on the Japanese side wanted to meet them.

Towering over these individual acts of incompetence is the almost ruthless determination of the Lam administration to whittle away whatever trust the people might still have. The reason that mindless panic-buying has broken out and the reason why, for example, there has been such violent resistance to the location of quarantine camps is that this government is neither believed nor trusted.

One day Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), declared that there was no need for officials to wear masks, the next day she changed her mind and followed up by donning masks herself. If she is so confused, who on earth is going to believe a word she says?

The contentious matter of quarantine camp location got off to a typically blundering start when the government, without an iota of consultation, suddenly declared that a camp would be set up in the middle of a Fanling housing estate. That plan met with such violent resistance that it had to be withdrawn.

Instead of learning the lessons of this blunder, such as engaging in prior consultation and carefully explaining measures to ensure the safety of other residents, the government opted for accusations of not-in-my-backyard selfishness.

The CENO’s credibility in this matter is meanwhile being tested when it comes to her willingness to see the vacant hospital in the backyard of her Upper Albert Road residence being pressed into service as a quarantine center. Strangely, not a word has been said about utilizing this obvious site.

If Lam was not terminally wounded by her handling of the still ongoing protests, she surely must end up being mortally wounded by this almost textbook failure in handling a major health crisis.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.