With chief still in denial, people's patience and trust is wearing thin

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 October, 2008, 12:00am

The choice of colour says something. Last year's policy speech featured a glowing gold cover that gave a feeling of vitality and progress, marking the beginning of a new era as Donald Tsang Yam-kuen began his second term.

Officials say the choice of a spring-like green this year was aimed at conveying a message of calm and vitality. Cynics, however, could be pardoned for feeling it was a scene of dusk that is likely to be followed by a long spell of darkness - symbolising the beginning of a period of uncertainty before the arrival of tough times.

Mr Tsang was long on rhetoric about ways to achieve sustained economic prosperity, balance conflicting interests, uphold social justice, achieve a better quality of life and effective governance, and raise public trust in his leadership and the administration.

His tactics were familiar. A top-level team, led by the chief executive, has been created to fight the financial turmoil. A new bureaucratic structure has been established to promote creative industries, and more consultations will be held on measures to improve air quality.

From pedestrian schemes to a geological park, a childhood immunisation programme to food relief, Mr Tsang sought to impress on the public that the administration had not lost sight of the small livelihood issues that matter a lot to people.

But set against the backdrop of a simmering crisis of confidence in the economic outlook that, if prolonged, would precipitate a governance crisis, the address failed to convince that the government has the ability to grasp opportunities that emerge from the crisis.

Take the issue of the old age allowance. The ideas Mr Tsang broached a means test for recipients that is likely to prolong disputes in society rather than achieve a consensus.

On the economic front, the dearth of imagination and ideas was even more apparent.

That was also the case when it came to governance, an issue that has seen the popularity rating and trust in Mr Tsang slide over the past six months.

If his decision to appoint new members to the Executive Council, for instance, fails to boost his confidence, it is because he has already dropped hints that he will not go far enough to pick members of what he calls the pan-democratic opposition in his team.

Although he reminded colleagues to remain humble and resorted to modest language in his self-reflection on criticism of his governance, he gave the impression he was still in denial about the fundamental weaknesses in his attitude and the government's policy-formulating structure.

In his conclusion, he noted there was room for improvement in the ministerial system and his mode and style of governance.

There are signs aplenty that people's patience and trust in the ability of the administration to change its ways and improve are wearing thin. Yesterday's blueprint did little to change the feel-bad sentiments.