Getting the job done

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 December, 1997, 12:00am

Hong Kong has won plaudits from the Heritage Foundation so often that it is in danger of becoming an embarrassing habit.

The latest, to be voted the world's freest economy for the fourth year in succession, is obviously satisfying. There is not much good news around the region at present and this is a fine opportunity to prove that Hong Kong remains a city with a solid economy, unsullied by corruption and based on a solid rule of law.

At least, that is how the world sees us. At home, though, it is fair to say that the city is far from being a commercial nirvana. Instead, it is a place where an entrepreneur can be arrested for selling home-made wine without a licence; where shops need a permit to import rice; where owners have to jump through bureaucratic hoops simply to run a dance studio; and where small enterprises can become so bogged down by red tape that they often just give up.

How can the SAR stay on a Washington watch-list for failing to crack down on pirates earning fortunes from illegal videos and CD-ROMs while somebody performing an unauthorised lion dance faces a $2,000 fine or being jailed for six months? Most of these edicts were drawn up long ago and are still around simply because no one got round to removing them from the statute book. This, however, does not make it right. In the 1996 Policy Address, a pledge was made to cut red tape and a sub-group of the Business Advisory Group was set up to do just that. So far, it has completed studies on five areas long overdue for streamlining, but little else. In the meantime, the SAR is already so knee-deep in study groups and committees that the paperwork gathering dust on civil service shelves just grows and grows.

So what Hong Kong really needs is a reputation for being able to get the job done with a minimum of official fuss - not another nice plaudit.