Donald Tsang

Undoing our 'can-do'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 April, 2010, 12:00am

Remember Barack Obama's campaign cry of 'yes, we can' which so electrified a disillusioned nation that it got him elected as America's first black president? Our own Donald Tsang Yam-kuen didn't exactly electrify with his 'I'll get the job done' campaign promise. But people still remember it for all the wrong reasons. It has become a tailor-made taunt frequently thrown back at him by those who consider him a failed leader.

Some campaign promises are best left forgotten. But the trouble with Tsang's is that it's all-encompassing. It's not just about fixing poverty or high property prices. By promising to get the job done without detailing what he means, he's essentially promised to fix all that is wrong with Hong Kong. And the people have come to expect no less from him.

The only way to interpret today's sour public mood is that the people have concluded Tsang isn't getting the job done. That's why his popularity - and that of his administration - is at record low levels.

It would therefore seem monumentally idiotic at this time for any senior official to remind the people of Tsang's heady campaign pledge.

Yet, whenever Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen is asked if he wants to be chief executive - and there's no doubt he does - he always replies smugly that his priority is to get the job done. If the administration still hasn't got it done after three years in office, how does it expect to do it in the remaining two?

Maybe our leaders still can if they summon up our 'can-do' spirit. All of us in Hong Kong are supposed to be blessed with it. We have the gritty determination to succeed in just about anything. That's what our leaders tell us.

They so believe in our 'can-do' spirit that they've proudly incorporated it into the city's HK$6 million redesigned BrandHK dragon logo. It is signified by a hard-to-identify silhouette of Lion Rock.

But what exactly is Hong Kong's 'can-do' spirit? How does it manifest itself? Is it the same as Obama's 'yes, we can' cry? That was something you could see and feel. It was manifested on the faces, in the hearts and in the minds of the people. Americans so believed in it at the time that they made him the so-called leader of the free world. It lifted a nation's spirits.

Is our 'can-do' spirit lifting us? Do Hongkongers still believe they can succeed if they try hard enough? Or has our system become so seeped with injustices that success is no longer within reach of the common people? Surely, if anything, we're a divided and dispirited society. There is nothing 'can-do' about the increasingly restive public mood. People are angry over just about everything - from poor leadership and the unfair distribution of wealth, to even middle-class families unable to afford modest homes, and university graduates stuck in HK$8,000 a month dead-end jobs.

Hongkongers did once have a 'can-do' spirit. They didn't need a HK$6 million logo to tell them that. But it is now a thing of the past. I'm not sure why our leaders still tout it. Maybe they're living in the past. Or maybe they got carried away watching the award-winning Echoes of The Rainbow, which projects the 'can-do' spirit of 1960s Hong Kong.

This makes it all the more baffling why the same administration that boasts of our 'can-do' spirit tried to destroy historic Wing Lee Street, which movie's director said was the only location left in Hong Kong that could capture life in that era.

It is past the time for our leaders to make promises of getting the job done or telling families struggling with falling incomes and rising living costs that they have the 'can-do' spirit. The people just aren't buying it.

What they need is a reason to believe in themselves again, to believe Hong Kong is still a fair society with a government that looks after the interests of all, not just the wealthy class. But our leaders still haven't figured that out.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster