Towards a more inclusive society for Hong Kong
A speech delivered at a speaker luncheon of Hong Kong Democratic Foundation on 3 May 2011
Thank you George for the very kind, but I think a bit too long introduction.
This is a topic that I don’t think anyone here needs really that much of elaboration on. When I was sitting there, I heard Alan Lung talk about the Central Policy Unit. I bet all of you here know what the Central Policy Unit is and what it’s supposed to be doing. I said “supposed to be doing” because I don’t think it is doing what it should be. In fact, I mention this because I think the CPU is a good illustration of how the government has transformed itself from being inclusive to now being quite exclusive.
The proper role of public institutions, statutory and consultative committees
I had the privilege of serving as a part-time member of the Central Policy Unit between 2001 and 2003. At that time, they actually invited many very vocal dissidents amongst the society to meet within the offices of CPU. We actually met every fortnight for half a day on Saturday mornings. But now the Central Policy Unit recruited quite a few second generation of NPC Hong Kong delegates, I think including the son of Mrs. Rita Fan. I’m not saying here that they may not be worth their appointment. But I’m just saying why there are so many of them. At the same time you have a lot of vocal dissidents being excluded, who have demonstrated their ability and competence. But this is the Administration that we are having at the moment. I think in so far as it can help it, the government would only appoint yes-men and women to consultative committees and statutory bodies.
And my other experience was that I had been appointed to the Urban Renewal Authority. I was only appointed for a brief spell of 2 years when a normal appointment would last for 6 years if not beyond. You know why? Because after one and a half years serving as a Non-Executive Director on the Urban Renewal Authority’s board, I moved the motion in the Legislative Council to urge for an immediate review of the urban renewal strategy, that was in 2005. And of course they finally did it under Carrie Lam, the exercise was just completed last year, and we now have promulgated a new urban renewal strategy. I was told that the Administration totally disliked what I did because they thought that you ought not to have waved your dirty linens in public. But I interpreted my role differently obviously because I was appointed in my capacity as a legislative councilor. So I thought that if I could not get things done on the board of the URA, I should have my last resort in the public forum from where I came, namely the Legislative Council. Until this day, I have not regretted having moved that motion especially what I urged the Administration to do in that motion in 2005 was eventually done 4 years later.
But this is the mentality that the Government has gone about making most, I can’t say all but most, of the appointments to public, including statutory and consultative, committees. And it is also because of this exclusive attitude or policy that I think can explain many of the bad policies that have attracted a lot of criticisms as soon as they were announced. Just take the Budget, for example, the latest example, it has a lot of blind spots and it is a classic case to illustrate how disconnect our Administration is with the public and especially public sentiments. Anybody who goes to the districts and talk to people in the street would probably know that nobody likes the MPF, the Mandatory Provident Fund. How on earth could the Financial Secretary possibly have come up with the idea of injecting billions of dollars into the MPF only to be collected at 65? So this shows how disconnected the Administration has been and how full of blind spots they are in the deliberation process.
A fair chance for everyone
Since this is the first time George that I spoke at HKDF luncheon as party leader of Civic Party, you would allow me some advertising time. In fact you may not be aware of this, but in our party’s Manifesto, we have the following to say relevant to the topic of today. I quote “We believe everyone should be given a fair chance to succeed and work towards the fulfillment of his or her potential“. In other words, we want people’s life chances to be maximized. And in our Commitment which is the next document to the Manifesto, we have the following to say on the social justice as our pledge to the public of Hong Kong to achieve as a party. If I may read, “Social justice is the bedrock of community development. We are committed to building a society of fair opportunities for all. We are morally obliged to provide a safety net to those who are unable to help themselves. We aim at eradicating poverty by developing incentives that address the causes as well as the symptoms of poverty. We will work towards a society in which everyone has the opportunity to develop his or her talents. We strive to eliminate social discrimination and redress the imbalance between the rich and the poor. Social harmony can only come about with social justice.” So the Civic Party in fact knows it and preaches it from day one that the social injustice leads inevitably to social exclusion, and social justice leads naturally to an inclusive society. And our concern for social inclusion flows from the long standing concern for justice and equality in society. And I am quite sure that Hong Kong will be much happier when we are an inclusive society that values equally the contribution of every individual.
You knew, if not before, from the kind introduction, that I actually did run against the incumbent Donald Tsang in 2007 for the 3rd term Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. So I think I am in the position to take stock after over 4 years of my competitor having been in office. I really don’t think Donald has done an inclusive Hong Kong any service. Quite to the contrary I think he has done a disservice to achieving an inclusive Hong Kong.
“Friend or foe” is harming Hong Kong
Given the limited time that we have this afternoon, if I may just single out a few things to share with you. Firstly, the policy of this so-called friend or foe dichotomy is doing a lot of harm to Hong Kong. Let me not to be unfair, I simply say that assume 50% of the talents of Hong Kong have been excluded from government’s service just because we are labeled the pan-democratic camp. So you are forever government’s enemy and you cannot be friend. This is not good for Hong Kong. If you look at political appointments to becoming under secretaries and political assistants, to me these appointees are just serving the Chief Executive as probably his personal servants. I don’t see how they are actually accountable to the people of Hong Kong. When you say, as Donald Tsang has been justifying these appointments, these are future politicians waiting in line to be appointed when the day comes, then why are you not appointing Greg So to Mrs. Lau’s vacancy, and when Mr. Michael Suen has to wash his kidney every night and yet he’s made to stay when there is in waiting Mr. Chan, the Under Secretary, who has been in place for 4 years, or nearly 4 years. So we just look at this as another piece of evidence of exclusiveness. If you are not a friend, you do not get appointed. So that cannot be a real exercise to nurture future politicians who can stand up to the challenges of the Administration when a chance arises.
In fact on the social and livelihood front, Donald Tsang also continues to practice the divide and ruleas a means to govern. This is not going to do Hong Kong any good. You must know this better than I do that we have a Gini Coefficient of 0.5333 which is in fact the highest amongst developed countries. This rich poor gap is so huge that it is an illustration of unfair distribution of resources and also an unfair distribution of the fruits of our economic activities. This, I bet, must be what our President and our Premier meant when they saw Donald Tsang in Beijing or somewhere else when they referred to the deep-seated conflictswithin Hong Kong. Of course Donald had his own reading and thought that meant to his liking but I really think that this is what the Premier and the President meant by deep-seated conflicts. I still remember that I debated with Donald only about half a year ago when he consulted the Civic Party on what he should say in the Policy Address. The subject of that debate was whether upward mobility is still with us in Hong Kong as much as it was with us 30 years ago, when I was a fresh graduate from university. Donald challenged me to say that the same upward mobility was here, and I said “Well, from where you got that, Chief Executive? I really don’t think upward mobility as I knew it continues to be found in Hong Kong these days.” He said he saw some data but up to now when I’m standing here talking to you, he hasn’t provided me with those data, but he said he saw. But go and ask any university graduates these days, their evidence, may be anecdotal, I think you will be told by these young men and women how frustrated they are in not really seeing hope in excelling, not any hope in really achieving what they want.
And one pet subject that the civil society has been talking about of course is real estate hegemony. I think university students will tell you that these real estate developers are actually everywhere from the time you turn on your electricity, your gas at home, to travelling in one of the buses, ferries, MTR, visiting one of the two supermarket chains, even buying your lunch boxes. All the moneys go into the same purse, or purses, rather, the purses of real estate developers. But is Donald Tsang doing anything about it? If you are promoting a more inclusive Hong Kong, then this kind of hegemony really should be addressed sooner rather than later.
The latest Budget and social inclusion
Talking about not doing things conducive to an inclusive Hong Kong, I am afraid I have to come back to the Budget again. The decision to do a cash hand-out of $6,000 might have earned our Financial Secretary some popularity. But it is turning the whole of the more educated Hong Kong against him and against the Administration. In fact I may not be 100% accurate to say that this decision to hand-out $6,000 cash only created anxiety amongst the more educated people amongst Hong Kong population. In fact if you come and walk the streets, and walk the public housing estates with me in Wong Tai Sin and Kwun Tong, you will be able to listen to what the kaifongs have to say. Not all of those from the grassroots actually embrace this idea of $6,000 cash hand-out. The classic statement that you will hear on any of this walking trip that you may go on with me would be something like this: What is the good of giving me $6,000 when what I want is to have a shorter queue when I am queuing up for out-patient treatment? I don’t know whether you know about this, but in Kwun Tong, you can easily find a kaifong having queued up for 5 hours just to be able to see a doctor for 7 minutes. This is a usual run of the mill thing that you queue up for 5 hours to be seen by a doctor for 7 minutes and you are told to go and collect your medicine and go. Also many have to dig into their own purses to pay for some of the better medicine because in the Hospital Authority formulary there are a lot of the latest drugs having been excluded. So they say why do you not include more new drugs in that formulary? Why do you not build more hospitals? Why do you not train more doctors? Why do you not to give us small class teaching? I can’t do small class teaching with $6,000 in my hands. This is an act of the government. But this is how Donald Tsang has chosen to handle the Budget. And the $6,000 cash hand-out, I really wish I were wrong, but I really think there would be more division amongst society, more hiccups when the government announces the way that it is going to really dish-out the $6,000. It is already dividing the rich from the poor, the poor from the poorer, and the poorer from the poorest. This is not conducive to inclusiveness in our society; it is conducive to exclusiveness and division.
With the $6,000 of course the Administration could have done a lot of things, reduce class sizes, build HOS flats, build more homes for the aged. You might have missed a recent advertisement put up by the Council of Social Services which gave you the very daunting figure of more than 7,000 nearly 8,000 old people actually died in the past 4 years while waiting to be admitted to one of our care homes for the aged. With a society as affluent as Hong Kong, I would certainly argue that this is totally unacceptable. Why are they gaining entry to heaven even easier than they are gaining entry to one of these aged care homes?
I advertised for the Civic Party just now and if I may just say this in conclusion. Maybe people did not take me seriously when I ran against Donald Tsang in 2007, so they did not pay attention to my platforms. And actually I did have a platform, in fact a quite comprehensive one. During the past 4 odd years, the Civic Party through its legislators has been trying to implement what I promised in my platform when I was running for the Chief Executive. The more recent of my party’s contribution to the inclusiveness of Hong Kong included but not limited to the following.
We of course urge the government to implement the minimum wage; we are now struggling to get the competition bill through the Legislative Council; we are asking for more resources for the Equal Opportunities Commission; we actually help the street performer Mr. Happy. I don’t know whether you remember Mr. Happy. He was a street performer at least twice arrested by the police for obstruction of public place. We assisted him in seeking legal representation to take up his case, fought the case for him, and eventually he was acquitted by a magistrate and the magistrate said the right to perform is actually guaranteed by the Basic Law, and the place where Mr. Happy was performing was a street wide enough in Mong Kok that he had not obstructed the public. This is the Civic Party practicing what we preached we really want people’s life chances to be maximized. We helped shoe shiners in Central to get back their permits so that they could continue to operate there. We also see West Kowloon Cultural Districts as a very important project to help Hong Kong to become a more inclusive society and let our young people, our artists to be able to excel.
The key is really sharing of political powers with the people I think if you are looking ahead. I think before universal suffrage can be achieved, I hope our next Chief Executive would be prepared to engage the public more. I really think that the time has come for Beijing and the HKSAR Administration to seriously think about building a governing alliance or ruling alliance of some sort. If you talk to our honourable members from the DAB, and if they are prepared to really share with you what it is truly in their minds, they would probably tell you something like this: that they are also very frustrated by the Donald Tsang Administration having put together a policy without their involvement and yet require them to give Donald Tsang all the DAB votes in LegCo. This is not fair to DAB, is it? If they ultimately have to face electors, voters out there in general elections, if you are pursuing or if you are really announcing policies that are not popular with the people, how dare you to ask the DAB to come to rescue and blindly vote for you, give you vote, in the Legislative Council?
I think the time may already have come for us to seriously deliberate about forming a governing alliance of some sort so that Donald Tsang will have some promise of some sure votes in the Legislative Council, and the DAB have the chance of participating in the baking process before the policies are announced because they can’t complain so they will have to take the honour and also if the people dislike certain policy and then blame together with Donald Tsang or with the future Chief Executive, that may be the way forward. So just leave you with these parting thoughts, I really hope that our next Chief Executive will really be genuine in public engagement, consider and forming a governing alliance, give us genuine universal suffrage. And I really think the Chief Executive has a very vital role to play in all these, he has no excuse not to do it.
I may be even longer than George in his introduction, but I will stop here and that was not meant to be any speech just sharing of some of the few thoughts that have been going through my mind recently. Thank you very much.
The IMF agreed with you that there should be more social inclusion and focus on social sustainability, however, state-wide public expenditures should also be put under control. What is your comment?
We have a lot of money, so in that sense I think we are more fortunate than may be your government back home and also than the Americans. So I really don’t think that poses a real problem for us while we are guarding so to speak, fiscal stability, while at the same time we are giving more to help the disadvantaged and deprived. I gave as an example of nearly 8,000 old chaps while waiting for admission to those care homes for the aged they actually passed away. In fact we have estimated that the government only has to spend about $10 million to correct that. Do we not have that $10 million? I don’t think so. Would spending that $10 million raise the eyebrow of the IMF? I don’t think so. If you really want my theory of why the government is not doing that, I think this goes partly to thedivide and rule, means to govern, practiced by Donald Tsang. If he does not play one sector of society against another, he may not know how to govern. That’s why you have government’s advertisements every now and then to say you can’t now have CSSA becoming more generous than it is because that would feed people who do not want to work. I am not saying that the system has not been abused. I have seen cases of abuse. But you do not justify, not helping those in need by blowing up all these cases of abuse. You should actually police such a scheme by bringing those abusers to justice. I do not think that there is any conflict between fiscal stability and doing more for those in need.
The Wen Wei Pao labeled Civic Party as a closet separatist. What do you have to say to that?
I’m not. I really think I won’t elevate what was contained in that article to be evidence. They are just finding some really incomprehensible data and information here and there try to make up a story. In fact the Civic Party has a record for anybody to check for those who actually know that I had a platform when I ran for Chief Executive in 2007 must recall that the opening lines of my main platform was a statement to say that Hong Kong’s future ties in with the future of China politically, culturally and economically. What the Civic Party has been doing is really to preserve the core values of Hong Kong and also to preserve our institutions. Because we firmly believe that by doing so, we are not only doing Hong Kong SAR a service, we are also doing China a service. If you care, ladies and gentlemen, to go back and check on contemporary Chinese history, you will know that in the past 150-200 years, Hong Kong has been playing this very vital role in China’s modernization. If you go back and check on the Taiping Revolution, you will know in the Taiping cabinet, the premier was a gentleman who spent about 4 to 5 years of his life in Hong Kong before serving on the Taiping cabinet. If you move on along the timeline in history, of course you will find Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, the two gentlemen who actually advocated for westernizing China in order to save the country. They also got their inspirations from Hong Kong. You can find the evidence of this in the centenary of 1911 Revolution which is being run in the History Museum in Hong Kong. Of course you need no reminder about Dr. Sun Yat-sen. He was of course educated in Hong Kong. He actually started planning the revolution in Hong Kong. In that History Museum exhibition, you will find a quote from his speech delivered by Dr. Sun in 1923 when he was addressing a congregation in Loke Yew Hall in his alma mater Hong Kong University and he actually said that he walked the streets of Hong Kong, and he couldn’t help to ask himself a question why under British rule for just short of 100 years, Hong Kong has become what it was, but under Chinese feudalistic rule for more than 4,000 years, China was not able to achieve a fraction of what Hong Kong had. So you know that Hong Kong has always had a very important part to play in China’s modernization. And the Civic Party and myself firmly believe that by really keeping our core values and our institutions, we are continuing to play that role. If we were to become just one other Chinese city, then this role can no longer be played. So this is a very important driving force, if I have not told you before, for me to actually entering the politics. I really think that to preserve those values and institutions will help China to modernize, will help to transformation of China from a feudalistic and ruled by man-state to a democratic and rule of law state.
Alan Leong Kah Kit (梁家傑)
Party Leader of the Civic Party and Member of the Legislative Council (公民黨主席及立法會議員)
3 May 2011
Reproduction of the article requires written permission from the author.