For the last few years, our government has been unable to provide any real leadership, largely on account of it being influenced by a clique of civil servants who are more focused on stifling change than embracing it.
Hopefully, with our incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam having built a reputation, at least with my contacts in government, for actually questioning the status quo, this may change.
It is all well and good to complain, as some of our previous chief executives seem to have done, about how divisive society is, but leaders who feel that their best-laid plans have been sabotaged should look themselves in the mirror first.
Societies need strong and respected leaders and, in their absence, the vacuum will always be filled by disaffected groups shouting before thinking. This is no different from how a class of children behave at school. A weak teacher, who has earned no respect from them, will have a more difficult job in controlling them than someone who has empathy with the group and is respected. People respond to leadership. To lead is to provide a strong vision of how a society is to develop and how people can fit in the total scheme of things.
For Carrie Lam, vision has to go beyond constructing more subsidized buildings and railways. It has to rise above physical things such as a Palace Museum or the Lok Ma Chau Loop – it has to set out the key values that our society holds dear and point out the way to build an exciting future for all who live here.
This is not to be accomplished by by putting out weak-kneed public consultations, the results of which are often rigged in order to get the agenda hidden behind them implemented. Leaders have to point out clearly where they want to go and convince the key constituents that they are right.
Carrie Lam has a narrow window to set the tone for what could be a ten-year period in which she leads Hong Kong toward 2047. She needs to reinvigorate the administration and implement fundamental changes immediately relevant to people’s lives.
Housing, welfare, and education are probably the three key things that every government needs to address if it wants to create a fair and dynamic society. We can afford to implement a radical reform program, changing the way people view their future and their roles in society.
First off, we need to make sure that government expenditure is for the benefit of bona fide Hong Kong residents rather than those living overseas who feed off a permanent Hong Kong ID card. So, we need to announce that access to public healthcare, housing, and education is not on the basis of having acquired an ID card, but has to be earned additionally through actual residency.
Secondly, it is a reality that 95 per cent of our people live in their own homes or homes heavily subsidized by government through the Housing Authority. With 1.2 million units under its control, the bloated Housing Authority needs to be downsized dramatically. Give those units to incumbent tenants for a nominal sum and free up the housing market.
On education, we need to ensure that all children have access to free education, apprenticeships, or vocational training until they are 18; while the system needs to become much more inclusive with a dynamic and relevant syllabus which de-emphasizes testing.
And, finally, if Lam wants to really give people hope, she should announce that she intends to introduce a 40-hour week and that the minimum wage will be doubled over 5 years with a view to moving it to the level of countries with similar per capita levels of GDP.
Not only would it be fun to hear the howls of protest at such proposals, we may even get some research and development expenditure and some focus on technology if we gave our workforce some dignity and paid them properly.
caption : Has a narrow window to lead. (Apple Daily photo)