Little comfort in call to arms

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 October, 1998, 12:00am

Before concluding his 135-minute address, Mr Tung told the public they should use the mainland's fight against the floods as a lesson to deal with the economic crisis.

Stay united and have confidence. The worst days will pass, he said.

Yet as history shows, the wall of human bodies used to hold back the waters of the Yangtze only brings short-term stability.

Peace and prosperity in the long-run lie with a realistic assessment of the problems as well as strong resolve and immediate solutions.

Blaming external factors and the bubble economy for the recession, Mr Tung chose to stick to the broad direction he outlined in last year's Policy Address.

Closer ties with the mainland; high value-added industries and a knowledge-based economy; investment in education and infrastructure; meeting long-term housing needs - these remain the essence of his governing blueprint.

While there is no major dispute about that approach, there are burning issues on which the community was looking for inspiration and direction.

People are worried about the fall in their property assets, pay cuts and job losses.

Mr Tung only repeated that 'stabilising flat prices' was the most important objective.

But it is unlikely the spate of fine-tuning measures on housing policy will help stabilise prices in the short-run.

Mr Tung might be right to argue the figure of 85,000 has no direct connection with the price fall.

The target itself, however, has been stigmatised as an interventionist attempt to tinker with prices.

The inflexibility of the Government in tackling housing policy echoes, as many suggested, the weakness in the machinery of government.

Yet Mr Tung has failed to take a penetrating look at his leadership problems and the structural weaknesses of the civil service in the past 15 months that worsened the crisis.

People might not have lost confidence in themselves. But they need to be assured their fate is in capable hands.