Donald Tsang

Handout era

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2012, 12:00am


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A conversation with a young man while on my way to the MTR on Friday was troubling in every way. On finding out that I was a journalist, the man, in his late 20s, let loose his frustrations about the government. It was not his sentiments that I found disturbing. I agreed with much of what he said. It was his sense of entitlement.

Being a parent, I know well the demands of children. The consumerism of society means that they are bombarded with messages about perceived must-haves. Busy mothers and fathers, on guilt trips about not being able to spend enough time at home, give in too easily to the pressure. Schools and sporting groups that reward for mere involvement, rather than achievement, add to the expectations.

Unsurprisingly, in adulthood, the desire continues for every need to be met. The trend is especially noticeable in developed societies, but Hong Kong's circumstances make it especially challenging. A government flush with cash headed by wealthy leaders is bound to prompt held-out hands. The man I was talking to had his held as wide as possible, his want list frightening in both breadth and depth.

He understandably wanted a government chosen by citizens that was fully accountable. No qualms either that he desired clean air and a liveable environment. But then came a costly check-list, from free education in Chinese and English for all through university to HK$5,000 a month plus fare-free public transport and subsidised housing for the elderly and disabled to no-interest loans for first-home buyers.

He could not get his head around how financially unsustainable his proposals were, nor was he able to comprehend the toil of previous generations to fulfil their dreams.

Parents are most to blame for such expectations, but the government of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was also at fault. The sweeteners it increasingly resorted to placate perceived restlessness contributed to the 'gimme' culture. Rate waivers, electricity subsidies, raised tax allowances and a HK$6,000 handout, among much else, were aimed at ensuring the 'peaceful and harmonious society' that Beijing is so eager for. The July 1 protest, the second-biggest in our city's history, proved how unsuccessful the strategy has been.

Tsang's successor, Leung Chun-ying, seems intent on perpetuating the mistake. Struggling for popular acceptance as he lurches from one crisis to another, he gave a mini-policy-address last week in which he announced HK$7 billion in giveaways. Among them was HK$1 billion for 3,000 hostel units for young people wanting to live away from home. I know that our young are the future, but spending lavishly on a sector of the population already used to having it all isn't going to win them over.

There are more fruitful ways to gain their support. An Executive Council comprising members better equipped to understand youthful ideals and aspirations would have been a good place to start - but with an average age of 57, decidedly well-off and pro-Beijing, it has little hope of meeting expectations. Those in their 20s and 30s do not need handouts or a fast track to gaining what their parents worked so hard for. Instead, they need understanding, representation and a voice.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post