The sway of Big Business reaches right to the top
Political scandals in this city have finally reached the very top. The recent expose of dealings between Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and some business tycoons have left many citizens gasping.
To a lot of people, the term 'government-business collusion' was previously just a feeling, a suspicion, a conspiracy theory - and perhaps very few actually believed it to be true. These stories now at least serve as prima facie evidence; Tsang has been caught with his pants down.
At the time of writing, the scandals are still brewing, our citizens are beginning to feel angry after the initial shock, and our politicians are now pushing for an investigation using their prerogative granted by the Powers and Privileges Ordinance. The Independent Commission Against Corruption is looking into the matter, though, in this case, it is supposed to report to the subject of its investigation. The whole city has been turned upside down.
Most of us believe Hong Kong is very clean, and this proud image is time and again reinforced by external evaluations and international rankings. We apparently have incorruptible judges, vocal dissident lawmakers, a free and juicy media, and citizens who will take to the street at the slightest provocation. It would seem simply inconceivable that our government is corrupt from the top down.
Now that most people know vaguely what has been happening, the next question is, 'why?' The answer may take a full-scale investigation, but I can offer here a preliminary hypothesis that can perhaps explain a major part of the mess.
The crux of the matter is that our business is getting too big. The handful of property conglomerates control practically everything any citizen needs in his or her daily life. Their combined turnover is astronomical and the taxes and charges generated from their business activities form a major part of government revenue.
Whether we like it or not, Big Business has in fact formed a de facto partnership with the government. And because it has the power to bestow benefits on our officials personally, one way or another, Big Business is in fact the senior partner.
For one thing, our officials will never do anything to make Big Business unhappy, and in many instances will bend over backwards to please it. Since there is no exchange of benefit whatsoever, there's no corruption per se; there is no corruption when the junior partner is serving the boss. In short, our government has been hijacked by Big Business.
It is in such an environment that corruption gradually creeps in. Would you say no to your partner if he were to offer to fly you to your holiday destination in his private jet? It comes so naturally that it does not look or smell like bribery, though it just stops short of it.
This practice has become so common and appears to be so innocent that some Liberal Party lawmakers defended Tsang, saying that they had been similarly entertained by rich friends, as if there was nothing wrong with it. And, indeed, no one from their constituencies came out to condemn them after the admission.
Since, apparently, there are no victims in all of this, and all stakeholders are happy, there is no whistle-blowing and all is well. See no evil, hear no evil, and we believe Hong Kong is clean.
Let's face it, the lionised ICAC can only catch small-timers. What if a Swiss bank account number were to change hands on a private yacht in the open sea in exchange for certain perfectly legitimate administrative discretions?
Wouldn't we be a little too naive to believe that something like this could not happen here since we have the ICAC, thank goodness? And don't insult our intelligence by claiming that this will go away with full universal suffrage because, judging from the experience in the world's democracies, it won't.
Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development