Donald Tsang

Crying foul

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 October, 2010, 12:00am

What started as a simple exchange of hellos with my neighbour in the lift lobby last week ended with me letting loose the foulest expletives you can imagine. My verbal filth embarrassed him - a polite man who works in the financial sector. But I couldn't help it. He told me his landlord had raised his rent by a non-negotiable 25 per cent - forcing him to either pay up or move. He chose to move.

You tell me: what sane person wouldn't curse like a madman at the mere mention of our greedy landlords?

Before you conclude I am a foul-mouthed maniac, you should know my neighbour and I have the same landlord - a big-time property developer. I live in a complex of serviced flats where tenants are only allowed yearly contracts, after which they face preposterous rent rises. I am now like a dead man walking - mortified by the thought of a 25 per cent rent rise which I simply cannot afford.

How I wish Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen would curse, too, when he talks this Wednesday about families being locked out of our outrageously overpriced housing market. That would really endear him to the people.

It is one thing, however, for me to swear uncontrollably at property-sector greed, quite another to expect our leader to hurl obscenities at Hong Kong's most powerful people. Besides, it is unreasonable to expect expletives from a devout Catholic.

But what, then, should we expect from the chief executive during Wednesday's annual policy speech? Fixing Hong Kong's many ills would require a miracle of biblical proportions. Don't expect that. A man of faith he may be; a miracle worker he is not.

There's talk that he'll help the 'sandwich' class buy subsidised homes. What sandwich class? When it comes to property prices, we're all the sandwich class. We're all being squeezed, except for the super rich who can afford anything and the super poor who live in public housing. All those in between are cursing.

Hong Kong is already too deep into the black hole of housing insanity for the government to help only those who are not poor enough for public housing but can't afford private housing. We all need help.

Sure, subsidise the sandwich class, but we also need sweeping policy changes to make private-sector homes affordable for all those others trapped in the angry vastness between the super rich and the super poor.

My despondent neighbour is trapped in that vastness. So am I. Rents going up 25 per cent when salaries are virtually stagnant is madness so extreme I don't have a word for it - except expletives.

Our leaders talk of upward mobility - moving people up the ladder to a better life. How is that possible when most people are actually tumbling down that ladder? To afford his rent, my neighbour had to settle for a flat inferior to the one he had. I'm next. That's downward mobility, not up.

It's sickening enough that we allow a handful of big-time developers to monopolise our property sector. It is doubly sickening to see them so blinded by profits that they care only about building super-pricey flats for rich mainlanders.

When even the taxpayer-financed MTR Corporation and Urban Renewal Authority are doing the same, you just have to hold your nose.

Hong Kong is no longer a happy society. It is a disillusioned one. We don't have the social harmony that Tsang so yearns for. He knows that.

Something is clearly wrong when we have 1.26 million poor people, when the city's wealth is not fairly shared, when wages are too low for people to live on, and when people can't afford homes.

Tsang is not a miracle worker, but some of these things do not require a miracle to fix, only desire and political will. I have seen his passion to fix things in private. He needs to display it in public, too. He's got two more years - not long, but time enough to define his leadership if he wanted to.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster