kevin sinclair's hong kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2007, 12:00am

It's easy to moan. It's simple to groan. Hongkongers tend to do a lot of both. Rising prices, soaring pollution, crowded classrooms, road chaos, expensive supermarkets, too few young people, too many old people, packed pavements, empty factories, bird flu looming; you name it, we lament it.

Much of this chorus of complaint is justified. Our heritage remains under threat by an unthinking administration. Planning for the future seems to have hit a rut; witness Kowloon West and Kai Tak. The significant drop in the numbers of foreign residents threatens our boasted status as 'Asia's world city'.

But can't we occasionally look on the positive side? Is there nothing right with our society, our government, our economy? I think there is. And I think we need sometimes to turn the mirror and reflect on the positive side of life in our unique city.

First, let's look at politics. No matter how you disagree with public figures, everyone should realise that across the entire broad spectrum, from the most vociferous pan-democrat to the most ardent supporters of Beijing, everyone is pro-Hong Kong. In the shrillness of debate, that's important to bear in mind.

What of other advantages? Well, we have the enormous benefit of living in a city that is safe. We owe much credit for this to the Hong Kong Police; not for nothing are they admired as Asia's Finest. And we also owe thanks to the Independent Commission Against Corruption; graft is no longer an accepted way of life.

Often overlooked, the Customs and Excise Department helps keep our traders honest. And when the other disciplined services have done their jobs and convicted wrongdoers, Correctional Services makes sure they remain safely and humanely behind bars.

Our public transport system in all its components, from the splendid MTR to rattling minibuses and shuttling ferries, is unchallenged in its diversity and efficiency. Our airport is the best landing place on the planet and will get even better when the new terminal opens next month.

In our civil service, we are served magnificently by our post office - can you name a better one? - and our Fire Services.

Our virtually free medical services are the envy of other nations; listen to the horror stories from victims subjected to the inept National Health Service in Britain.

But look at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

This department badly needs a shake-up so conservancy and the country parks stand with a much more effective and stronger Environmental Protection Department as vigilant watchdogs over the air we breathe and the way we build. The old Ag and Fish arm should wither away, along with the farmers and fisherfolk it once served. Its day is done.

Put it to sleep.

Eternally vigilant are the gallant airmen of the Government Flying Service, heroes aloft day and night, who put their lives in peril that we may be safe. I greatly admire our Audit Commission, which keeps a sharp and unblinking eye on the spendthrift ways of government agencies.

If anyone wants to keep a finger on what's really happening in Hong Kong, the Census and Statistics Department can provide instant figures.

Despite criticism, experts from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department have helped stem the threat of bird flu and, along with the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau, it keeps a scientific watch on what we eat and drink.

There are numerous other public agencies that do us proud, many of which are seldom in the public consciousness. The Government Laboratory hums along with quiet efficiency.

There are many errant taxpayers who probably believe the Inland Revenue Department is far too effective. Imagine the chaos in our harbour if it were not for the well-practised maritime shepherds of the Marine Department. That's not all. Turn on the kitchen taps and we can drink the water; there are many places in the world where people would consider this a miracle.

Our list of valuable public assets is not restricted to government. Our banks are honest and reliable. We can leave deposits with them and sleep soundly at night. Think of our splendid portfolio of hotels and the other infrastructure that keeps our tourism industry humming and tens of thousands of Hongkongers in work. Then there is our vibrant business environment and healthy economy.

Sure, we've got problems. Certainly, there are many areas in which we can do better, notably town planning and the environment.

But next time you are tempted to whine, think about the good things that Hong Kong offers. Try to balance the books.