Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Power plays

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2011, 12:00am


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It may seem a stretch to compare the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex scandal with our local illegal structure saga, but it is not. Granted, the disgrace of the former chief of the International Monetary Fund has the element of sex for heightened drama. But our local illegal structure 'witch-hunt', as some have called it, has not faired badly either on the sensational front: a news item from an ombudsman's report has snowballed into the seemingly daily exposure of misbehaviour of the rich, powerful and famous.

Both scandals raised serious questions, to be sure, though the political drama clouded the real issues at play. Strauss-Kahn's alleged sexual misconduct raises questions about the use and misuse of power and the treatment of women by men and the media; it is for these reasons that a battle of the sexes has been unleashed in France.

Our problem with illegal structures has little to do with the erotic. It does, however, have to do with power. Just as one could see Strauss-Kahn (or former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, or New York congressman Anthony Weiner) as an alpha male so blinded by a sense of entitlement that he abuses his power, some of those who flouted buildings regulations must also have felt that their position entitled them to be above the law.

The technicalities and the spectacle of the media naming and shaming public officials should not obscure the crux of the problem: Hong Kong's home-grown alpha males institutionalised as the Heung Yee Kuk. The powerful kuk is the problem. Power given to people as a birthright, and preferential treatment for indigenous villagers are the reasons we have four-, five- or even six-storey 'three-storey' village houses.

Instead of owning up to their responsibilities as law-abiding citizens, members of the kuk continue to place themselves and their clans above the law. Calling illegal structures not just a legal issue - at least not for indigenous villagers - is atrocious.

The boys of the kuk have been having it good for so long that perhaps they feel they can get away from their legal obligations by constructing illegal structures. It has been 14 years since the handover, and this historical remnant of Hong Kong's colonial days needs to be dealt with once and for all.

Public policies in bygone days that granted leniencies for whatever political reasons cannot be continued. The kuk's insistence on getting unequal, and thus unjust, treatment needs to be rejected. Bending to its increasingly unreasonable demands - like compensation for removing illegal structures - and creative interpretations of the law will only make things worse. Its sense of entitlement will grow even stronger.

The illegal structure saga is about a lot more than refurbishing balconies. It's about how decades of turning a blind eye to the kuk's bullying has helped made it a monster alpha male institution that demands privilege at everyone else's - including the government's - expense. Those extra storeys of village houses - symbols of unadulterated greed and insolence - may just need to be taken away, and the rule-breakers made to answer for their action, the way Strauss-Kahn is now answering for his.

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