Why pampering civil servants can be really bad for morale
We were distressed to learn over the weekend that the possibility that Chief executive Donald Tsang may have accepted favours from tycoons has affected civil service morale. This, we know, can be fragile at the best of times but given the present uncertainty, is unbearably so. Matters have reached such a low ebb following public discussion of collusion between civil servants and businessmen that 'some members of the public poked fun at us. We're facing immense psychological pressure,' one member of the civil service union told a Legco panel. Imagine - being made fun of - wrist-slitting stuff. Only a week or so ago, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, commenting on the arrest of Raphael Hui by the ICAC, said he didn't think the incident would affect civil service morale. But given the gravity of the situation we now apparently face, surely we should pause to consider how the rise and fall of civil service morale is detected, or even measured. Is it something that only insiders can assess, are there objectively verifiable criteria? More seriously, why is the morale of civil servants such an issue? They are some of the most cosseted individuals in the community, with their iron rice bowl conditions of service, final salary pensions and numerous other benefits. Why is the morale of the service so much more important than the morale of everybody else? You don't hear bankers, or anybody else, moaning about the impact on their morale if their bonuses or salaries are cut. They look for somewhere else to work. We well remember in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis swathes of people were laid off and if they were lucky, rehired at close to half their previous salary. We were told it was a necessary restructuring of the economy. But one organisation sailed serenely through that crisis unscathed - the civil service. It is time we stopped treating Hong Kong's civil servants and their 'morale' as if it was some kind of endangered species that has to be treated less robustly than the rest of us.
Heard on the Chilean grapevine
Donald Tsang is in Latin America, where he is hopefully restoring his 'morale'. He subjected the Chilean people to the usual mantra about using Hong Kong's renminbi platform to settle trade deals, urging them to export more wine through Hong Kong. 'Last year, we imported over US$17 million worth of wine from Chile, which makes you our seventh largest source of wine imports. This is more than double the amount of wine imported in 2007,' he said. This, we feel, was damning them with faint praise. As a big wine producer, we were surprised Chile was so low. The six countries above it, according to Hong Kong government figures, are: France (HK$6.1billion), UK (HK$1.2 billion), US (HK$588 million), Australia (HK$ 553 million), Italy (HK$ 217 million) and Switzerland (HK$ 194 million). Just in case you're wondering about missing out on UK and Swiss wine, they re-export wine from other countries.
Dogged by a canine currency
For those of us trying to make sense of what's happening to the euro, here's David Bloom, currency strategist with HSBC. 'It's like a lazy dog, it just sits there doing nothing,' the Evening Standard reports. 'Occasionally it moves towards the fire, then it gets a bit hot and moves away again but it never goes far. It just hangs around. I think people just don't know what to do any more. We're in a very bad spot because the economy is not strong enough to be self-sustaining but not weak enough to warrant more [quantitative easing]. The market wants more liquidity or more growth but it's getting neither. It's like a boat drifting out at sea. You're waiting for the wind to pick up, or you're waiting for there to be no wind at all so you put the motor on. There's enough wind not to put the sails down but not enough to put the motor on.' So there you have it. While we're on the subject, we see that French budget minister Valerie Pecresse said: 'We believe fears being expressed about Spain's economic health are excessive.' If previous utterances by Euroland leaders are anything to go by, a bailout is rapidly approaching.
Blankfein will just have to get by
Poor old Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, had to suffer the indignity of a 35 per cent pay cut that left him with a paltry US$12 million, which is almost half of what Hutchison's Canning Fok earned last year. This is some way off his bumper year in 2007, when he earned US$67.9 million, but this was before investment bankers fell out of favour. However, if you add in what Blankfein had coming to him from previous years, his total for 2011 was US$16.2 million. Hard to see him moaning about his 'morale' being affected.