Carrie Lam is Hong Kong’s biggest failure, not RTHK

February 25, 2021 09:30
Photo: RTHK

Normally I would focus on Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po's budget which
he unveiled yesterday. Not this year, except to say he tried his best with an austerity budget that still offered HK$5,000 spending vouchers to all adults and modest sweeteners such tax and rates relief, and help for pandemic-hit sectors, despite a huge budget deficit.

Today I will focus instead on accountability, RTHK, and Beijing’s plan to overhaul the electoral system which, to me, is another nail in Hong Kong’s coffin. There have been so many lately, silencing RTHK being one, I fear Hong Kong can’t take many more before it is finally buried.

Last week, a damning government report accused RTHK, headed by broadcasting director Leung Ka-wing who has now stepped down, of governance and management failures. The report held Leung partly accountable for not observing its charter, in effect, forcing him to quit.

Leung did the noble thing and stepped down even though I think rather than failing in his job, he was a scapegoat. I’ve known him for years and have worked with him.

As the station’s head, he was determined to protect RTHK’s media independence, allowing free speech programs that lampooned the government and the police. This infuriated Hong Kong’s rabid Beijing loyalists who demanded his scalp. They got it.

Who would have thought Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten would be proven right when he said just before the handover local loyalists would be the ones to destroy Hong Kong by brown-nosing Beijing.

These so-called patriots – many of them or their families have foreign passports – often urge Beijing to tighten its grip on Hong Kong by limiting its freedoms. They cheered when Xia Baolong, director of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office signaled a political overhaul that would in effect kill opposition voices by allowing only patriots to rule Hong Kong.

How to classify a true patriot? It’s subjective at best. Can’t these loyalists understand they are destroying the city they were born in by abandoning its core values of a free society and open elections? Those who dare look themselves in the mirror would admit Hong Kong has become unrecognizable.

If accountability matters, let’s start at the top. But our shameless government targeted lower-level scapegoats. Aside from Leung, the government and loyalists went after reporter Nabela Qoser for asking Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor tough questions. Her contract has been terminated.

Those who can’t tolerate criticism are called glass hearts in Chinese. Is Lam, who likes to be seen as an iron lady, such a glass heart she cannot tolerate criticism? The police arrested RTHK freelance producer Choy Yuk-ling for investigating the July 21 2019 Yuen Long attack by white-shirted thugs against protesters and MTR passengers.

Her alleged crime? Misusing a government facility to check car license plates. Does it not matter that she exposed police failure in dealing with the attack? Does it not matter that her show received 1.3 million YouTube views?

The government ordered RTHK to terminate a popular satire show just because one episode made fun of the police. Is the police so thin-skinned it cannot tolerate being laughed at?

Lam and her top officials should watch NBC’s Saturday Night Live. It parodies the rich and powerful, including former US president Donald Trump, without facing any investigation into its conduct. That’s what free speech means.

Take with a grain of salt assurances by Lam and Beijing that free speech still exists. How many of you still dare sing the protest song Glory to Hong Kong publicly as free speech without advocating independence or violence?

Of course the government probe into RTHK would be damning. It was headed by a Lam confidante. How can such an investigation be fair when Lam and loyalists have long targeted RTHK? The report didn’t even acknowledge RTHK’s many award-winning programs. Only an independent inquiry can have fairness.

Accountability means the buck stops at the top. Overseeing Leung is commerce secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah. He’s been Leung’s boss for over three years. If RTHK was not following its charter, surely he should have known and warned Leung.

He didn’t but passed the buck down, admonishing Leung for alleged failures last week. The buck should travel up and stop at the top. But Yau, a mediocre bureaucrat who lacks leadership qualities, had the gall to accuse Leung of leadership failures without accepting any blame himself.

At the top of the leadership chain is Lam. She had harsh words for Leung’s work performance. What about her own performance? Every recent poll showed she is Hong Kong’s most unpopular leader. Her now-dead extradition bill caused divisiveness and a radical uprising that led to Beijing tightening its grip.

If anyone has performed poorly, it’s Lam, including her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Why isn’t there an investigation into her performance? Hong Kong’s first post-handover leader Tung Chee-hwa introduced a system that held top officials accountable for their failures.

But aside from a few ministers who resigned for poor performance during the leadership of Tung, who also stepped down after half a million marched against a national security bill in 2003, no top official has been held accountable despite glaring performance failures.

In announcing Leung’s departure, neither Lam nor Yau had the decency to thank him for his service. Never mind. Let me thank him instead for championing RTHK’s independence.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.