Renaissance period

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 September, 2010, 12:00am

As we gear up for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's penultimate policy address, political parties have handed in over 1,000 policy recommendations. I don't have a list showing how Tsang should run the government in his remaining 18 months as chief executive. But I do have a message to share with him.

At a recent international religious gathering in London and Paris, the Episcopal bishop of Haiti, the Right Reverend Jean Zache Duracin, shared his thoughts on the tremendous task of rebuilding Haiti, a country that was devastated by a magnitude-7 earthquake on January 12. Bishop Zache calls the catastrophic event Haiti's 'rebirth' - the destruction demanded serious self-reflection on the good and the bad, and wisdom and courage to set the right priorities.

Why should anyone listen to a bishop from the poorest country on the other side of the world? Because tragedies of this large a scale (much of Haiti's capital destroyed, up to 250,000 people killed and many more injured) inevitably mean that one must start from scratch, which brings clarity on how things are to be done, and mistakes corrected.

Mother Nature has been kind to us in Hong Kong. No disaster of this magnitude has struck us. Even man-made disasters, like the global financial crisis, have left us relatively unscathed. While our government has been criticised for having overestimated its impact, other countries and their leaders are still trying to get their economies back on track and their people back to work.

We are, of course, not without problems, and self-reflection requires that we recognise the good and the bad. Flying into London during the Tube strike earlier this month made me appreciate the safe, efficient, inexpensive, reliable and clean public transport system at home. The fact that a cab ride from South Kensington to Mayfair cost the same as I would pay for a doctor's visit at any of our public hospitals is also testament to the affordability of our quality health care. And trying to flag down a cab in Paris last week made me realise that our own cabbies are angels in comparison. The grass looks greener on the other side, and it takes a visit to the other side so we can look back at our own grass to realise what we too often take for granted.

A healthy dose of appreciation is by no means complacency, which we can ill afford. Our hospitals are increasingly a drain on the public purse. Our public transport system, arguably the world's best, has not cleaned up the noxious air we breathe, and we still have a cross-harbour tunnel that is underused and overpriced. And these are the kind of priorities the chief executive must set for his upcoming policy address.

While the government has changed its stance on the protection of historical landmarks - most notably Sheung Wan district's Wing Lee Street, thanks to public pressure stirred up by the awarding-winning film Echoes of the Rainbow - its work record so far reeks as much as the Paris Metro. Since it announced its decision to keep Wing Lee Street off the bulldozer's list, it has not done anything to improve the residents' poor living conditions. Those who were in line for relocation have since been left in limbo: stuck living in run-down homes without restoration work.

Compared with other cosmopolitan cities, we lag way behind in giving our culture and history the priority they deserve. And this is because, for decades, our governments have traded them for high-rises. Preserving remnants of our culture must be more than just figuring out what to do with the West Kowloon cultural development.

None of these issues have quick fixes, but this does not mean that nothing can be done. It would be wise for Tsang to take Bishop Zache's insights to heart. We are not starting from scratch, but it is time to look seriously at our strengths and our failings. Without the pressure of having to run for re-election, this is the time for the chief executive to set priorities to begin fixing what's broke and to reinforce what's working.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA