Hong Kong's 'can-do mentality' killed by 'box-ticking' civil servants
It has become apparent to us in talking to people in business recently that they are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with the government.
Years ago Hong Kong was famous for its "can-do" spirit. This involved not just the entrepreneurial spirit of local businessmen but also a government that was prepared to be flexible and to assist business. In recent years, it has been apparent that the government has been unhealthily close to business. Now the government appears to be running ludicrously in the other direction. So government departments are now more concerned than ever before with ticking boxes and following rules while disregarding the often absurd outcomes.
We have a situation now where the civil service is terrified of sticking its head above the parapet. Rather than take a decision and achieve something worthwhile, civil servants prefer to tick the boxes, avoid criticism and keep their jobs, perks and pensions. Some businesses are complaining that it is almost impossible to deal with the government. This is not a healthy situation. It is not going to increase Hong Kong's competitive position vis-à-vis other business centres and will eventually kill the spirit that made Hong Kong an interesting, stimulating and profitable place in which to do business.
We are not suggesting that the government bows to business demands. Only that it acts reasonably to facilitate business without ending up in its pocket. The government needs to take a long, hard look at this. In the interests of promoting a better Hong Kong, we would be happy to hear from those who feel they are being badly treated by government departments.
Readers may recall that in recent weeks we have been reflecting on the fact that Hong Kong has the fifth-largest police force in the world in terms of the number of officers for every 100,000 of population. These musings have attracted a range of comments. There are those who believe we get great value for money from our police and there are those who believe they could do better.
This debate rumbles on, and we recently heard from a reader who notes that every two weeks there is a police speed trap set at the western end of the Wong Chuk Hang flyover. Two weeks ago, he says, he counted five police motorbikes, one large police van and 11 uniformed officers, with two more officers operating a radar gun. The three-lane road had been reduced to one lane with the speeding motorists being pulled over and there was, in consequence, an enormous tailback of traffic. He observed: "In normal jurisdictions this kind of enforcement of the speeding regulations is accomplished by one camera which causes no traffic disruption and simply sends a notice and a fine to the owner of the car." And he goes on to ask, "Perhaps someone can explain to me why it takes 13 police, five motorcycles and a squad van to operate a speed trap. Or can't we afford a camera?"
He then tells us that he regularly takes the No8 minibus to Central, which goes down Old Bailey Street. The traffic, he says, is regularly brought to a standstill as drivers ignore the yellow box at the bottom of Old Bailey Street, blocking it with their vehicles so that when the lights change the traffic cannot move. In 15 years, he says, he has never seen a policeman at this junction which is, ironically, next to the old Central police station and prison. "Or perhaps I am wrong and they are all out capturing murderers?" he says. What a cynic.
Although the cricket sixes were called off, the Carbine Club thankfully went ahead with its famous, long lunch yesterday. The guest speakers this year were New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns, and the English chums Steve Harmison and Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff. They were teammates in the famous English ashes victory over Australia in 2005. In his talk, Flintoff demystified some of the hype surrounding the famous photograph of him consoling a crestfallen Brett Lee after Australia had lost the second test match in 2005 by two runs. This was the picture of the series - a depiction of high sportsmanship. But the reality, according to Flintoff's account yesterday, was rather different. "Brett you alright" Flintoff enquires solicitously. Then adds, "It's 1-1, you pr**k."
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