PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 12:00am

WHAT CAN A question hide? A public consultation by the Home Affairs Bureau recently found that 90 per cent of Hong Kong's people oppose football gambling while a government opinion poll found that 57 per cent want it permitted.

Likewise, the bus companies say their passengers are happy with that monstrous insult to the travelling public, Roadshow Holdings, which is not surprising when only people who say they watched it were polled.

Similarly the Transport Department asked bus passengers if they 'accept' it. Well, they have to, don't they, if they step on the bus.

But I have a question of my own to ask. Is there any such thing as an industry association of pollsters? If there is, then I want a blackball in my hand for the first time that pollsters AC Nielsen apply for membership or, if they are already members, the right to propose a motion that they be thrown out of the association forthwith.

I can excuse amateurs for asking silly leading questions even if I cannot always excuse their motives but I find it inexcusable when public survey professionals do it. Here are some of the questions that AC Nielsen asked in the survey that purportedly showed public support for Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's ministerial system, the one whereby he tacitly admits that he has not done much for the past five years.

Do you support or not support the HKSAR Government's proposal to introduce the accountability system for principal officials to enhance its (sic) accountability to the public? Yes, but would I support it if it does not enhance accountability to the public?

Accountability may be the stated objective of it but we have no proof yet that this objective will be achieved. The question is leading in assuming what cannot yet be assumed.

Do you support or not support the Government's proposal to maintain the stability and professionalism of the civil service? Of course I do. Who could possibly oppose stability and professionalism in the civil service? In fact 3.8 per cent of the respondents did so, which makes me wonder what sort of civil service they want. More than that, I wonder why this question was posed in a survey.

Do you support or not support the Government's position that the civil service in general should continue to be dedicated to their (sic) duties and abide by the principle of political neutrality of the civil service? Another of those questions that has me scratching my head as to why it was asked. Apparently, however, 1.4 per cent of the respondents believed that the civil service should not be dedicated to its duties and should not be politically neutral. Could I have a psychologist here please. I think we have material for a master's thesis.

Do you agree or disagree that the Chief Executive, as Head of the HKSAR Government, should have a team of senior officials who share a common mission to help him formulate and implement policies? Do I think the Government should have a leader? Perhaps the 31.8 per cent who said No only object to the present incumbent. I cannot think of any other reason for their objection and I certainly cannot see why the question was asked.

Do you think the Government's performance will improve after implementing the accountability system? Here we have the reason perhaps. Get them used to saying Yes and they will say it more easily when the big question comes. Was that AC Nielsen's thinking? Only 51.1 per cent said Yes even then by the way.

Give me that blackball. It will be a long time before I believe any AC Nielsen findings again. These people belong in the public relations, not the public survey business.