After 2,600 columns, it's time to say goodbye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2008, 12:00am

Today is my birthday. Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah! Many happy returns to me.

I expect to make it the longest birthday I have ever enjoyed by crossing the dateline this afternoon on a flight to Vancouver. That way I can demand cake and candles all over again when my wife and I arrive at our destination in the Gulf Islands. Clever, huh?

It also marks the end of the longest job that I have ever held in one continuous stretch. Today is the day that I make my exit from the Post.

That's right. This is my last column. I have written some 2,600 of them for this newspaper, the equivalent of 20 full-length novels, and have come to agree with my critics that I am repeating myself too often. I never expected to last longer than two years with the Monitor column, but I have now lasted more than 10.

Quit while you're ahead, they say. Well, I don't know if I am ahead, but I do think I am no longer on my way up in this column and I wouldn't like to quit on my way down. That would be no fun. It's time to turn this space over to someone with a fresh approach. It's time to go.

Of course, it may happen in a year or two that I develop such a case of scribe's itch as to ask the boss to let me be a contributor again, and I may contribute to journals that are not published on a daily basis.

But at present I intend to satisfy that scribe's itch with other forms of writing, in particular some full-length fiction works, one of which is almost complete, hoping that I can interest a publisher.

Before taking my leave of the Monitor column, however, I want to make sure the record is straight on one or two things.

First of all, I am not leaving in a huff, nor have I been booted out. My relations with my employers are excellent and always have been. The editors for whom I have worked have all fully supported me and given me editorial freedom, even when I have embarrassed them, which I have done from time to time.

I am grateful for their confidence. It's a privilege to be given a prominent column in a daily newspaper and told that you have a wide latitude in how to fill it. I have thoroughly enjoyed the privilege and I take this opportunity to thank my employers for having given it to me.

Second, I have never come under any pressure from government to slant any of my comments one way or the other. Government officials have occasionally pointed out errors that I made (and mostly been right on those occasions) but have never pushed me.

Their conduct has always been as proper as any journalist could wish.

Friends tell me it is different in the Chinese press and in the broadcast media, but I am not entirely convinced. I am amazed at some of the things the Chinese press gets away with saying and I have always found journalists overly ready to cry 'foul' when they are personally involved. To my mind, freedom of the press has been one of Hong Kong's great success stories and public officials can be proud of it.

I mention this because the focus of the Monitor column was always meant to be finance and economics, not government. I have found, however, that you cannot talk finance and economics without talking government. I am convinced that it is the same way in boardrooms. Government something or other always features prominently in corporate deliberations.

And if there is one message I want to leave with government after 10 years of this column, it is that democracy is right not only because government should always have the consent of the governed but because it makes for more effective government. The ballot box in the public sector exerts the discipline that the profit and loss account exerts in the private sector. Public administration in Hong Kong is the worse for not having it.

Before leaving, I must also express a personal note of thanks. My good friend Stephen Brown, with whom I worked in four different incarnations in the investment business, was behind very many of my best columns.

Stephen and I chat over the phone most mornings, a conversation that usually ends when we can't stop laughing, and, although he has never been in the news business, he has better news judgment than any journalist. He has given me the benefit of his nose for a good story whenever he was not required to keep his confidences. Thank you, Stephen.

I must also say thank you to the people at CEIC Data, the subscription data service that has been my window on the economies and markets of Asia throughout the past 10 years. I thrive on primary statistics. It comes of my previous career as an investment analyst. CEIC Data was my indispensable tool for the Monitor column.

I have others to mention but it's time to bring this to a stop. I enjoyed having you for company over the breakfast table for 10 years, dear reader. I hope you enjoyed my company, too. Goodbye.