Why we should care about this 'charity'
The Independent Commission Against Corruption has a department that advises on arrangements to avoid the dangers or temptations of graft, whether in the public or private sectors. It should take a close look at the Community Care Fund, the new 'charity' to be created by the government with a mix of public and tycoon money.
Of course it will not do so, being directly under Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who proposed the 'charity' administered by bureaucrats. I am astonished that respected people on the Executive Council have consented to this.
Do not imagine that government itself is incapable of corruption. It is not a law unto itself. It is guardian of the public interest. If any part of government gives favours to particular companies or groups in exchange for contributions to this 'charity', that would be corruption.
Why would tycoons and their companies want to contribute to a government 'charity' if not to expect something in return? Why would the tycoon representatives be so keen to propose such a government 'charity' to which they would contribute some big cheques?
It is not just me who assumes that a policy linkage is likely. This is what that astute, must-read South China Morning Post columnist Shirley Yam, wrote - and no official has dared contradict it: 'Within 24 hours of its announcement by Tsang in his policy speech, various tycoons and their listed arms issued statements pledging hundreds of millions. It all smelt of orchestrated co-operation, if not compromise. It may appear that the tycoons have lost a few dimes. But think about the alternative, and you will see how good they are with numbers.'
In short, they have paid a small, one-off capital sum to try to improve their image and take the heat out of demands they be subject to higher tax, a big increase in land sales and a modicum of regulation of their antisocial activities. What can they buy next with another contribution to this fund? Further delays in small-lot land auctions? Continued refusal to tackle lawlessness in New Territories land use?
Don't tell me that there is nothing political in a fund with a likely payout of less than HK$300 million a year being administered by Henry Tang Ying-yen, the former textile- quota farmer who is now chief secretary and aspires to be chief executive.
Contributions to genuine charities are badly needed. But contrast the tycoons' eagerness to throw hundreds of millions at a government entity to their actual help for the many genuine charities that exist, not to mention the politically safe Community Chest which distributes to 148 associated charities.
Total Community Chest outgoings this year will be just HK$193 million, much of which comes from the broader public, not big business. The biggest Community Chest donors are Bank of China and HSBC, not the property tycoons. Some corporate accounts show significant total donations - though not necessarily to charities or in Hong Kong. Sun Hung Kai Properties last year, for example, gave HK$93 million. Cheung Kong is a big supporter of the Chest's Rainbow programme. But other donations appear modest - Henderson Land HK$15 million, New World Development HK$29 million, Bank of East Asia HK$13 million.
Tycoons personally may donate more, but mostly to buildings with their names in highlights.
Thank heavens for one breaking ranks - Ronnie Chan Chichung of Hang Lung Properties, which last year donated HK$43 million and intends to go on making its own charity choices.
Otherwise, put the payments to genuine charities for the benefit of Hong Kong against the multiples of those sums suddenly offered to the government 'charity' and the fundamentals of the Community Care Fund are brutally clear.
Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator