Donald Tsang: China's disposable slave

The Standard    July 10, 2008

The anniversary of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's first year in office as chief executive in his own term did not go as well as he must have hoped.

Think or Sink

With the new boss, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, in town for the celebrations he probably hoped for a few kind words and perhaps even a bit of praise.

During his brief visit to the former British colony, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping told Hong Kong officials that Hong Kong's administration, legislature and Judiciary should support each other. Xi's comment surprised, if not outraged, Hong Kong's legal professionals who immediately rebuked Xi for going against the judicial independence principle entrenched in the Basic Law. When asked to comment on Xi's problematic remark, Donald Tsang fielded questions from the media by saying Xi was not rebuking the Hong Kong administration but meant everybody should work toward the rule of law and the economic development of Hong Kong. Today, kind words. Tomorrow, who knows?

One can always hope.

A nice banquet, a few reunification anniversary fireworks, a tour of Olympic sites and handshakes all round, plus a few kind words about his host from the vice president of China. That would add up to a pretty good way to mark Tsang's first year as Hong Kong's boss in his own five-year term.

And nothing matches a few such comments from the Beijing leadership to fire up enthusiasm for Sir Donald among the comrades in government and Legco. Instead, he must have felt like a rather abused stableboy. He was kicked, admonished, handed a shovel and told to clean up.

That had to hurt.

Being told by Xi to govern "sensibly and reasonably" and to make sure he implements "stable and efficient" policies to overcome current difficulties sounds like he was being told off for acting insensibly or non-sensibly and unreasonably over destabilizing and inefficient policies which made things worse instead of better.

Sounds about right.

For example, Tsang's handling of the assistants to ministers hiring saga was a master class in mismanagement. So were the nonsensical answers to everything from keeping their spectacular salaries secret, then not, to their foreign citizenship not mattering when everyone else thought it did.

And the government didn't do too well responding to the landslips and floods either.

While Chinese police and troops risked life and limb to rescue people after their earthquakes, Hong Kong's police feared to risk the dark in order to check on aged inhabitants of remote villages cut off by landslips and left without water, power or communication for days.

Communication from police and the authorities about what to do in the emergency was rather poorly handled.

Some policies regarding roads and emergency and other access to villages in the New Territories just don't make sense. Policies regarding adding solar power installations to buildings and villas and village houses don't make sense. Policies on requiring wind and other green technologies from our power suppliers don't make sense. Policies on air pollution don't make sense.

Mainly because we don't have any such policies.

Policies on loft remodeling of under- utilized godown and factory space don't make sense. The new regulations on food labeling don't make sense to many people.

And still going on and on in dispute after dispute on constitutional reform more than 10 years after the handover doesn't make sense.

Getting a timeline, finally, does. But not getting detailed proposals on the way forward until after the September Legco election for those who will vote on those issues does not make any sense at all. If you want an election to act as a kind of mandate on the reforms, now is the perfect time to act.

Forcing candidates to take a stand on how they will vote regarding proposed reforms is the best way to get a clear idea about public support or opposition to proposed reforms.

If you want another chance for another muddled up and wasted opportunity, well, just keep to the present so- called "plan." And keep Stephen Lam Sui-lung where he is, doing as he has always done.

Yes, admonishing the chief executive for permitting, if not promoting, inefficient and destabilizing and unreasonable policies just about hits the nail on the head.

And to add insult to injury, Xi made it clear in no uncertain terms that he expects Tsang to personally make absolutely certain that the Olympic equestrian events entrusted to Hong Kong go spectacularly well.

Or else.

There goes any chance of summer holidays this year for our civil servants. They will be braving the hot August sun along with Legco candidates and political science researchers.

I can just about see the nervous sweat trickling down Donald's face.

He probably never thought in all his life that his career would come to hinge on horse races and pony shows.

Happy anniversary, Mr Chief Executive.

Michael DeGolyer is a professor of the government and international studies department at Hong Kong Baptist University