Jake's View

HK$1b black holes are an expensive way to fool Beijing

Despite a flashy launch, the HK government's five-year plan contribution has quietly died

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 4:57am

Jake, you cannot resist attacking this one.

Reader e-mail


Attack? Me? All I do is offer mildly worded corrective suggestions to ameliorate the deleterious effects of insufficiently considered initiatives.

But the "this one" to which my reader referred is a Productivity Council project, and no other agency of the Hong Kong Kong government so shamelessly squanders our money, not even its decaying wastrel sister, the Trade Development Council. No, I cannot resist.

I shall concede, however, that the Productivity Council did not saddle itself with "Bud", the Dedicated Fund on Branding, Upgrading and Domestic Sales. "Bud" was brought into being by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who spawned it because his boss said he had to.

The mission was that Hong Kong show its support for the latest national five-year plan by doing something for it, something good, you know, good stuff, you know.

This turned out to be taking HK$1 billion (a mere billion) from the HK$100 billion (a mere hundred billion) allocated to support of small and medium enterprises, a more general government initiative otherwise recognisable as a black hole to rival anything ever discovered by astronomers.

The money would be used by these SMEs to "develop brands, upgrade and restructure their business operations and promote sales in the mainland market, so as to enhance their competitiveness and facilitate their business development in the mainland market".

Don't ask me what this actually means. I live on Planet Earth, not the other side of that black hole, as the Productivity Council does.

But what it translated to in practice was the creation of a new government website for "Bud" and a big launch show on June 25 last year.

There are pictures on the website to prove it, speaker after speaker at the rostrum to say what good things "Bud" would do for the latest five-year plan and an audience of junior government staffers rounded up for the occasion so the pictures would look right. Can't have speeches without an audience, you see. It just wouldn't do.

Ahhh, but there was a flaw in these launch arrangements. Days later on July 1 a new chief executive took office and he soon made it plain that he didn't consider himself obligated to observe the letter of his predecessor's pledges.

Out went at least two of Donald's pillar industries, the other four all rocking on their foundations. C.Y. will make a fresh start.

And how do we know this? How do we know that "Bud" has fallen victim to this new breath of fetid air?

Simple. You go to that "Bud" website and look up the list of Approved Projects and what you see is: "To be updated in on-going basis and the vetting results for the first batch of application will be available in October 2012". Nothing has been done.

Now I may have all this entirely wrong. The intention from the start may have been to pull the wool over Beijing's eyes with a flashy show, all sound and fury signifying nothing, and then go on with business as usual. It's certainly the way these things are done on the mainland.

If so, I applaud and suggest only that someone go to the slight effort of updating that website with a few hundred dollars worth of approved projects. There will be no need to say how much money went to them and it's a general good rule to keep up appearances.

I also then expect that in his budget speech next week, our financial secretary will find a recently disallocated HK$1 billion to put down a new black hole in aid of fooling Beijing.

It's a silly way of doing things, of course. We would be much better off if he did not have to tell expensive lies to Beijing and could save the money or, better yet, not collect it from us in the first place. He might then look for other good places to save money, for instance by swinging a big axe to the entire Productivity Council.

But, unfortunately, I think our financial secretary is a true believer and actually thinks he is doing something worthwhile with "Bud" and its wastrel parent. How odd.