Opinion | The golden rules of good government for Hong Kong's new administration
By Philip Yeung, a university teacher
In less than 24 hours, Hong Kong will have a change of leadership.
In the past, the SAR government has been guilty of a catalogue of missteps that are entirely avoidable, had it adhered to certain time-tested principles.
One of them is a people-centered focus. Any proposed initiative must pass this simple smell test: Is it user-friendly?
In the dying days of this administration, the SAR government came out with a pesky measure that vexes its senior citizens. The latest idiocy is the so-called JoyYou Card which replaces the Octopus Senior Citizen Card that allows those 65 or over to enjoy the piddling discount of $2 concessionary fare for transit rides.
This dumb move is the brainchild of Law Chi Kwong, the secretary for Labor and Welfare, otherwise known as the "do-nothing" minister. His twisted logic is that the application process for the current senior travel card is too easy, and must be made more difficult to deter abuse. As evidence of abuse, he cited a client base of 1.32 million senior citizens versus 3.6 million senior Octopus cards issued.
He forgets that seniors are forgetful, and often misplace their cards. Replacing it with the new-fangled JoyYou card does nothing to reduce abuse. Where are the police figures to back up his claim?
Doesn't Law know that in cities like Zhuhai or Macau, seniors travel for free on public transit? Wealthy Hong Kong continues to "nickel and dime" its struggling elderly.
To prevent fraudulent use, nearby Macau has a simple low-tech device to discourage abuse: every time the senior card is tapped or scanned, the loudspeaker identifies it as such, embarrassing any illegal user.
The "JoyYou" card is "no-joy". Even the name itself sounds stupid. It brings no added benefits, only added irritations.
The elderly are terrified of technology. Yet they are made to navigate a digital process.
Besides, it makes little economic sense. Think of the costs of publicizing, promoting and producing the new cards, not to mention the manpower required to process the mountains of applications. The money could have gone towards better elderly benefits.
This leads us to a second principle, an allergy to "unintended consequences". Officials cooking up new initiatives often do so with a tunnel vision, such that when one visible problem is solved, another unanticipated problem is created. The most notable example is the introduction of the infamous TSA test whose idea was to evaluate the effectiveness of school teaching. But the dreaded tests have robbed the kids of their childhood, making learning painful and artificial.
It pigeonholes schools into three bands, with Band-3 at rock bottom. This stigmatization is institutionalizing educational failure for hundreds of schools.
The third principle is taking ownership of one's errors. There is no shame in making mistakes, for we are all human. But SAR officials have a stubborn refusal to stop believing in their own infallibility. The TSA is opposed by teachers and parents alike. In the teeth of widespread vocal opposition, it is given a new name and continues to victimize children and their parents.
The fourth is empathy. Officials get first-class pay and perks for delivering third-world service. They have kicked around the idea of a universal pension plan for two decades, with nothing to show for all the fuss. This is because they enjoy the world's most generous pension benefits themselves, with multi-million-dollar lump sum payout plus princely monthly payments. There is no incentive to find a cure for an acute problem facing an aging society.
The fifth and final principle is simply avoiding misidentifying the needy and handing money to the wrong party. Under Mr. Law, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars were gifted to supermarkets which happen to be one of the few lucky businesses to profit from the pandemic, as home cooking becomes the norm. His immoral subsidies only made the rich richer. Next he splashed hundreds of millions of dollars more to bail out a failing airline without saving a single job. It is a tale of breathtaking stupidity and incompetence.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong remains the only advanced economy without an unemployment program, while income taxes continue to be collected from paychecks. Law offers no solutions, only excuses for his inaction over the hardships of the jobless.
Law obviously feels the pressure to prove his worth by appearing to be finally doing something. Except that something is just an empty, costly bureaucratic exercise.
On the mainland, such low-level serial stupidity would have been swiftly penalized. Hong Kong's only consolation is that Law won't be around after July 1 to inflict more elderly abuse. We mustn't give him the satisfaction of delivering another donkey kick to the elderly.
Hong Kong's social safety net is at a shameful, below-survival level. Why add insult to injury? Why make the elderly jump through hoops for a petty benefit?
We are counting on the new broom to sweep clean. Instead of fossilized thinking, how about a sense of mission, an urgency to seek sensible solutions to pressing problems? With political madness ebbing, Hong Kong can finally put people's welfare on the front burner.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.
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