Former governor returns for dinner, but never for seconds
Former governor of Hong Kong, David Wilson, was espied dining at the Police Officers' Club with a group of people on Saturday evening. He was apparently exercising his role as chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, a post he has held since 1997, and was entertaining members of the university's Hong Kong alumni. Wilson, who now rejoices under the title Baron Wilson of Tillyorn, was governor from 1987 to 1992. According to a conspiracy theory related by my colleague, Jake Van Der Kamp, Wilson was not offered a second term as governor by British prime minister John Major because Major found himself having to make too many kowtows to Beijing to get business done.
The kowtow that appears to have rankled most with Major was having to go to Beijing in 1991 at China's insistence to sign the agreement that would permit the building of the Chek Lap Kok airport to go ahead. This made Major the first representative of a Western government to visit Beijing following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Other leaders followed once someone else had taken the first step. This cut short Wilson's tenure in Hong Kong, according to the theory. Otherwise he, not Chris Patten, would have gone down in history as the last governor of Hong Kong.
Integral planning gone awry
One has to wonder how carefully Chief Executive C.Y. Leung has chewed over his plans for effecting greater integration between Hong Kong and the mainland. While his heart might be keen on bringing about such a move, this is really a matter for the head. It is quite a tall order to combine a country with a closed capital account and income tax at 45 per cent on worldwide earnings with a city that only has a tax on locally sourced income and an open capital account. The consequences are plain for everyone to see - a flood of everything from across the border: women pouring in to have their babies here, mainland day traders flocking over to buy products they can sell at a higher rate back on the mainland, and mainland money pouring in here to buy property.
Despite Leung's integrationist tendencies, the government is trying to come up with quantitative barriers to stop the flows that it stumbled into generating in the first place. It will surely only be a matter of time before there are limits on the number of schoolchildren coming across the border, which already number 17,000 a day. And then, when the express rail is completed in 2015, it is expected to bring in an additional 116,000 mainland visitors a day, doubling the current flow.
There are also the money flows. Hong Kong was the world's fourth-highest recipient of foreign direct investment last year. Some US$83.2 billion has supposedly been invested here. But as everyone knows this has been spirited away to the mainland. Some call it money laundering.
Failure due to lack of interest
Our "campaign" against illegal car parking has been a resounding failure. Anyone wandering around Central, Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui can easily see this for themselves. In other places that have restrictions on where cars can be parked, you tend to notice an illegally parked car. In Hong Kong, you are surprised if space outside buildings is not occupied by illegally parked cars. Clearly, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the authorities are not particularly concerned. You can hammer away for only so long at traffic wardens and police constables about them apparently not doing their jobs before realising there has to be a reason for this seeming lack of interest.
Obviously senior police officers in these districts, for reasons best known to themselves, have little interest. This is reflected in the resources deployed to tackle the problem.
We understand there are some 20 traffic wardens whose job it is to patrol Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Happy Valley. But we gather that with holidays, shift work and so on, there are usually six to patrol the area. Half are usually deployed in Happy Valley. So, we are told, there are generally three traffic wardens available to patrol the area between Arsenal Street and Victoria Park. They apparently issue some 4,000 tickets a month for illegal parking - without making much of a dent in the problem. But it will always be like this if senior figures in the police force don't take it more seriously and allocate sufficient resources to be effective.
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