Loss of public trust: what it means for the govt

March 02, 2020 16:44
The recent panic buying of rice, toilet paper and other essentials by Hongkongers suggests that the citizens would rather follow their own judgment than believe in what the government says,  lawmaker Dennis Kwok writes. Photo: Reuters

Beijing's recent move to remove Zhang Xiaoming from his position as the head of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and appoint a new chief for the key body has sparked speculation about the political future of Hong Kong's own top leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Interestingly, pro-establishment figures have remained tight-lipped when asked by media to comment on the issue or to predict what could happen with the chief executive in the coming days.

It seems that even the pro-Beijing camp members are refraining from throwing their weight behind Lam in a high-profile fashion, even though it is possible that she may be able to hang on to her job for the time being.

The reason why the pro-establishment camp is keeping Lam at arm’s length is simple: the SAR administration, under her leadership, has done a poor job in fighting the coronavirus epidemic, igniting widespread public outrage in the city.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum may have different views on policy issues, but they share the same stance when it comes to combating the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic.

As a matter of fact, several politically accountable officials from Lam’s cabinet have recently conceded that the public's lack of trust in the government has made it extra difficult for them to carry on with their disease containment efforts.

However, while such a narrative is certainly true, all that the officials did was only point out the phenomenon, but not explain the reason behind it.

And that reason, as we all know, is that the citizens don’t trust the government because they feel the chief executive lacks integrity and acts irrationally.

Medical experts had advocated full border shutdown as a way of preventing the coronavirus from spreading into Hong Kong, but their advice was met with obstinate refusal from Lam.

As a result of the chief executive’s stubbornness, the government is continuing to let potential virus carriers enter the city on a daily basis.

How possibly can members of the public be convinced that the government is truly having their best interests at heart in fighting the disease when Lam is allowing science and professionalism to take a backseat to politics and bureaucracy?

Worse still, when citizens started scrambling for face masks amid the virus fears, Lam said at first that the government had ordered tens of millions of face masks from overseas suppliers.

But within days, the chief executive back-pedaled and announced that the government has not been very successful in its efforts to procure masks on the global market.

As the government threw up its hands, many local businesses and individuals, meanwhile, succeeded in importing tens of thousands of face masks from other places. Their success calls into question the competence of the SAR administration.

What is more, the government suddenly did an about-face by designating two public housing estates as quarantine centers, only days after the chief executive pledged that she wouldn’t use any new public housing estates for such purpose.

As Lam went back on her word so blatantly on this matter, it amounts to cheating the citizens.

Confucius once said that the state will lose its basis for governance if it cannot secure the trust of its people.

I wonder whether Lam, who often claimed that she used to be a top student who always got the highest grades in exams, has ever heard of this quote, or whether she just simply forgot it after she had graduated from school.

The recent panic buying of rice, toilet paper and other essentials by Hongkongers, despite the government’s repeated supply reassurances, suggests that the citizens would rather follow their own judgment than believe in what the government says, because they simply don't trust the administration anymore.

Given the current state of affairs, it is doubtful if many people would sympathize with Lam if she is ousted from office.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 15

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legco member representing the Legal functional constituency (2016-2020) and a founding member of Civic Party