Ronnie Chan shoots his mouth off and hits himself in the foot

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am

'It is ridiculous to say the government favours the business sector. It doesn't,' he [developer Ronnie Chan Chichung] said. 'And what is wrong with creating a favourable business environment? People doing business create employment and pay tax.'

He says instead that a major cause of the wealth gap is a lowering in the quality of the Hong Kong people themselves. 'Some people have no chance of getting married in Hong Kong so they go to the mainland. As a result, we have many people in [in Hong Kong] whose education level is low. Because they have received little education they can't find a job in Hong Kong.'

SCMP, July 15

The obvious fallacy here comes first. The chart shows that workers with a tertiary-level degree now account for 23 per cent of our labour force, more than double the figure 14 years ago. There has been an equivalent decline in workers with at best only primary education.

I grant you that we have a problem with mainland wives who find themselves lost in our society. But it takes a Ronnie Chan to imply that this means a town of increasingly uneducated yokels when the easily available facts point directly the other way. We've got a big thought thinker here.

Hong Kong has come to expect it of this former main board director and audit committee member of the bankrupted Enron Corporation when he shoots off his mouth. It's the rare occasion that Ronnie finds something to like in his hometown.

Let's run through some of his complaints, starting with the one about how it is ridiculous to say that the government favours the business sector. We are talking of a government that has favoured the business sector with a direct entry to the Legislative Council through functional constituencies, the only place in the world this has ever happened.

It is a ridiculous arrangement indeed, Ronnie, but not in the sense you had in mind. True, there is nothing wrong with creating a favourable business environment and the best way to do it is through free and open markets. Trouble is, few businesses actually favour this arrangement. They prefer markets rigged to their special benefit.

We see them off every now and then, however. One fine example is the application system for land auctions. At one time when the government had a piece of land to sell it would hold an auction where interested developers could nod and wink at each other during the bidding. Surprising then how often it would be a joint venture to buy the land at a safe price. What happens now is that a developer must guarantee a minimum bid that satisfies the Lands Department before the land is released for auction. Ronnie doesn't like this system. He describes it as a policy that has propped up property prices by suspending land auctions. He has plenty of sympathy from other developers although they may not all agree that propping up property prices is a bad thing.

But, Ronnie, it was done to restore proper market practices to the property marketplace. No land auctions were suspended. Your friends in the industry had only to stop acting like spoiled brats and bid up rather than whisper. And why should it bother you anyway? Your emphasis is on Shanghai these days. You tell us you haven't bought land here for the last 10 years.

Where our man really lays it on heavy in the interview that we published on Thursday, however, is the subject of the judiciary - 'In Hong Kong our legal system wrongly thinks it is so almighty that it can rule on everything ... the new chief justice should follow the practice of his counterparts in the UK, only ruling on legal issues.'

But he does, Ronnie. The difference is that since 1997 we have had a constitution, the Basic Law, and no constitution provides for every possible happenstance. It is one of the functions of the Court of Final Appeal to rule on what the constitution means when there is confusion about it.

This can mean rulings on gay marriage and right of abode and all sorts of contentious issues. They are legal issues. The Basic Law has made them so. Pick up a copy some day and read it.

But if you don't want to be bothered, then why not just stay in Shanghai where you can praise your lords and masters in Beijing all day long and no-one will dare do anything but applaud you for it.

You'll be doing us a favour in Hong Kong, too.