Business as usual is no longer good enough

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 October, 2010, 12:00am

In his policy address, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen unveiled an interesting idea: a HK$10 billion Community Care Fund which, he subsequently explained, would help the poor 'whom conventional social services are unable to reach'.

In the process, he also showed the inordinate length to which the government is willing to go to cultivate, please and involve the business community.

Half the money in the fund will be contributions from the business sector. The focus on 'the business sector' - not 'the private sector', or 'the public at large' - seems to confirm the widely held belief that there is a special relationship between government and business.

In fact, Tsang makes it clear that the government sees the 'business sector' as separate from the community. Thus, he talks about a 'tripartite collaboration' involving the government, the community and the business sector.

The business sector also has a role to play in the city's move towards universal suffrage. Tsang said in his speech: 'In the face of further democratic development, the business sector needs to adopt a new mindset and make greater efforts to prepare for universal suffrage.'

It is almost as though, in Tsang's mind, Hong Kong cannot move forward without the co-operation of the business community. Certainly, its role is seen by the government as virtually all-encompassing. Even when addressing the question of family harmony, Tsang called on the business sector to promote core family values.

Perhaps the emphasis on the business sector is the chief executive's way to ameliorate social tension which, we are told, has divided our community. Today, there is hostility towards the rich that did not exist in previous years.

According to Tsang, the best way to ease such tension is to 'enable the community to benefit from economic development and share the fruits of prosperity'. The Community Care Fund is presumably a vehicle to bring this about and, at the same time, improve the image of the business sector.

Perhaps the idea of business involvement stems from the recent visit by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to persuade mainland billionaires to give half their fortunes to charity.

Actually, the average Hong Kong person is a very generous soul, according to the first World Giving Index published last month by the British-based Charities Aid Foundation. Findings based on a Gallup survey of 195,000 people showed that Hongkongers ranked 18th out of 153 societies surveyed in donating either money or services, or helping strangers in need. The mainland ranked 147th.

Still, Tsang's concern with the business sector is understandable. Clearly, the co-operation of the business community is required in any political reform. Without such co-operation, certain problems, such as functional constituencies, will be difficult to resolve.

Tsang knows that the business sector can be either a hindrance or a help. This policy address is a very loud appeal to the business sector to quit stalling, get off its behind and work for Hong Kong's overall interests, especially where political development is concerned because, after all, what's good for Hong Kong is also good for business.

Only in this way can the antagonism between rich and poor be reduced. There needs to be a new mindset whereby businesspeople identify with the overall community, which, after all, created the conditions for their wealth.

The chief executive is right that the business sector should be involved in all kinds of community issues. It is now up to the business sector to respond. What is needed is action, not just money - and a change in mindset.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.