12 June, 2012

Towards a Greater Society (expectation on the fourth term of SAR government)

Hong Kong is ailing. We boast ourselves about a great economy; but we have a very crippled polity and a highly segregated society.
Even official statistics admits that more than one-tenth of families are surviving on monthly income of less than $6,000. And it is not just the poorest suffering; mid-level managers and professionals have seen their real salaries diminishing over the last eight years.
The official GDP growth conceals the unjust concentration of wealth in and unsustainable reliance on a few sectors. The high fiscal reserve does not tell the widening chasm and rising tensions between the rich and poor.
All this has cost Hong Kong dearly, bleeding her of harmony and trust, the cornerstone of social capital. It has also resulted in a government low in credibility and authority, a phenomenon further accentuated by suspected corruption of senior officials or collusion with big businesses.
In a month's time, a new Chief Executive will be sworn in. The new administration and all Hong Kong must recognize that such ailments have their roots in a society and political system that are both unjust and mutually reinforcing. Whereas the causes of economic inequality may be of global nature, the lack of its solution can only be explained in local context.
For both the elections to the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council are so designed as to make certain classes and interests over-represented. What's more, the office of the executive falls short in suffrage vis-à-vis the legislature in a system where they vie against each other for popular support.
The net result is the inability to foster consensus for breakthroughs. Consequently, policy deadlocks are seen everywhere, be they developing new industries, new financing models for medicare and pension, new infrastructural projects or mandatory green measures. Such deadlocks have blunted any possible political vision.
Recognizing the duality of our problem, response must be sought in both the socio-economic and political-administrative fronts. On the former, a more egalitarian approach should be adopted in examining our existing policies and exploring overdue reforms. Should we give more respectable pensions to the elderly regardless of their means and abode? Should we segregate the housing market as to provide affordable dwelling for the commons, while not stifling the investment of the more privileged? Is it right to pursue economic development to the benefit of a few, but at the cost of a worsening environment for all? Should cross-sectoral conglomerates be curbed in their powers to reinvigorate the SMEs on which our economic flexibility once depended? Is there room for taxing luxury goods through a just consumption tax? These are but a few areas in need of thoughts.
In the political-administrative aspect, more equitable participation in needed. The election method for the Chief Executive must be hurdle-free as to return a truly democratically elected head of government in 2017 whose legitimacy and platform will go undisputed. The present political appointee system must be revamped to bring in other voices into the administration.
Governing capacity should also be strengthened so that when the political system is ready, the administrative system is armed with the right tools to finish the job. Intra-govermental policy research capability, obviously inadequate at present especially on longer term issues and contingency planning, must be properly enhanced. Furthermore, conventional advisory boards and committees and commissions with executive powers should also be reviewed as to ensure that they serve real purposes other than political dressing.
There is no doubt that these changes will be met with suspicion and opposition. There is no doubt that they will not come without a price. But it is also beyond all doubts that such price must not be paid by giving up our core values in terms of people's liberties and the rule of law. Politics is a balancing art; and here a fine balance must be struck such that the new administration shall neither bend the rules to please the crowd, nor let the rules be abused by vested interests as barriers to necessary change.
For there is nothing more badly needed for Hong Kong than a Greater Society, and this can only be achieved through a more equitable manner in the creation and distribution of wealth, and in the political participation of her citizens.

07 June, 2012