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Opinion | Who is qualified to be Hong Kong's next leader?

By Philip Yeung, a university teacher


Finally, the other shoe has dropped. Carrie Lam has ruled herself out of a second term. The city is heaving a collective sigh of relief. After five horrible years that will haunt Hong Kong for eternity, she will be remembered as the 21st-century captain of the Titanic who tried to evade two icebergs.

Now, the post-Lam era beckons.

With John Lee, the Chief Secretary the only serious candidate bidding to succeed her, it looks like a one-horse race.

But the Hong Kong he leads has hit rock bottom.

Hong Kong's strategic importance is never in doubt. Political protests here have spilled over into Taiwan politics, allowing the US to fish in troubled waters.

In 25 years, we have gone through 4 leaders, none of whom has served two full terms. Two belong to the much-touted "AO clique", Administrative Officers who have lived all their working lives in a golden-bowl existence. Together, Donald Tsang and Carrie Lam have debunked the myth that only AO's know the inner workings of government to run the city. One landed in jail, the other has been teetering from disaster to disaster.

Theirs is not the failure of one leader, but of an entire team whose popularity ratings are permanently underwater.

Why are they doomed to failure? Can the next leader break this one-term curse?

Yes, but only if he finds a cure to a systemic defect that remains unrecognized, undiagnosed and unnamed: an identity crisis.

Hong Kong might have returned to China, but it has never been decolonized.

Ironically, Article 100 of the Basic Law is partly to blame. It guarantees civil servants all the colonial perks, including the right to give their children a UK education paid by the public.

How do you justify this ridiculous extravagance in the post-colonial era, when it was originally designed for colonial officials? No other government in the world pays its civil servants to desert its public schools.

This oddity leads to two unintended consequences: Civil servants abandon local public schools in droves. In Singapore, that would be a crime.

The fish, they say, stinks from the head. When education chiefs send their kids to private schools in Britain or elsewhere, at public expense, their hearts are no longer in their portfolio. Little wonder that public schools have become human warehouses, where little learning takes place. What do you expect when selfish amateurs run education?

This bird-brained perk has another after-effect. The hearts of our civil servants are in Britain, not in Beijing. With their kids schooled in the UK, they are emotionally invested in their former colonial master. They are Chinese on the outside, but British subjects on the inside. Now, you know why over 100 out of a total of 700 AO's, have refused to swear allegiance to China, choosing to resign rather than comply. The civil service remains a colony of closet neo-colonial parasites.

This folly is compounded by an educational disaster: failure to teach children Chinese history. Instead, they are told to study a wishy-washy subject called liberal studies, which is an invitation for immature students to become unqualified government critics.

Worse, officials believe in their own infallibility. From a litany of educational disasters, the childhood-destroying TSA, dangerously designed liberal studies, the toxic labeling of public schools to the privatization of elite public schools as fee-paying institutions, they refuse to walk back on their mistakes and undo the damage. They are too arrogant to listen and too lazy to learn.

There won't be any meaningful education reform until civil servants are compelled by law to send their children to public schools.

The same goes for pension. Don't hold your breath for universal pension reform. Civil servants receive a multi-million-dollar lump sum payout plus a generous inflation-adjusted monthly pension on retirement. Pensions are other people's headaches.

Here, 80-year-old women, hunchbacked and doddering, scavenge for scraps in back alleys for a few dollars, are constantly chased by environmental enforcers who confiscate their carts on sight. This cruelty to the elderly is a moral stain on the city.

Article 100 has created two categories of people: civil servants living in a bubble, and the powerless who sink or swim by themselves. There will never be another rags-to-riches story.

Article 100 of the Basic Law must be repealed.

We guarantee civil servants an iron rice bowl. We don't owe them a golden one. Only here does a political assistant take home more than a US vice president.

The National Security Law has detoxified the political landscape, free of activists who played to a political circus. Gone are the silly filibusters and outrageous antics in the Legislature. Gone, too, are collaborators who are in bed with US-led agitators.

Now Hong Kong must heal itself.

The next leader must think regionally to solve intractable problems. Livelihood issues such as affordable housing are amenable to a regional approach, but it would take more than paying lip service to the Greater Bay Area concept.

Resentment is smoldering beneath the surface. Poverty is worsening, the welfare queue is lengthening, homelessness and suicides are spiking.

AO generalists belong to the colonial era. Their motto for self-preservation is: "Do little and make no mistakes". Overpaid for their inaction, they mouth platitudes and fiddle with cosmetic half-measures, who play the property market as a hobby. No more civil servants enriching themselves as property speculators as a civil service power couple did when they raked in $23 million from flat-flipping over a 10-month period.

The Chinese have an honorable tradition of officials assuming the role as paternal protectors of the people. This concept is absent here. Sir Donald was famous for "hating the poor", despite his own humble origins. When he left office, his wine collection worth over two million dollars, courtesy of tycoons who wined and dined him, is proof of his decadent lifestyle. Who can forget this little man whistling breezily in delight on learning of his appointment as chief executive?

Local governance is snarled by pockets of vested interests, as exposed by the pandemic. Hong Kong's 43 public hospitals are overburdened, but 13 private hospitals have turned away Covid patients. With our doctor-to-patient ratio at 1.9 per 1000, the city needs another 11,000 doctors. But the Medical Council, has selfishly created a bottleneck, barring the entry of world-class physicians by imposing a self-protective licensing examination, while Singapore accepts graduates from the world's top 150 medical schools for practice. The Medical Council is now our immigration department, deciding the selection of immigrants. Wielding its 30 votes in the Election Committee, it has frustrated every chief executive since 1997.

Our tax system favors the wealthy---with no inheritance tax, no capital gains tax, no import duties for wine, and no rent control to speak of.

The governing mentality needs a sea change. We can't afford a "business-as-usual" approach. Local officials and Western worshippers still look down on the mainland, not realizing it has leapfrogged the world in technology. Their bias against Beijing is outdated by at least 30 years.

Hong Kong is seeking a new role and relevance. As China dreams of becoming a nation of innovation, this city could reinvent itself as a center for educational innovation, bilingual and beautifully bicultural.

Will Hong Kong rediscover its magic or mojo? With the right diagnosis and prescription, perhaps the next leader may finally break the one-term curse.


The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

Read more articles by Philip Yeung:

Opinion | The impossible country---Looking at China upside down

Opinion | No more stupid wars, hot or cold

Opinion | China on a high-wire over the Grand Canyon

Opinion | No peace without China --- American chickens coming home to roost in Ukraine


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