Hong Kong's taxi voting block shows how electoral process is open to corruption
"The fact that you have functional constituencies is the best thing in the world. Professionals are there to give unbiased opinion and knowledge."
Daniel Lam Chun,
Urban Redevelopment Authority,
SCMP, July 27
Let's take the transport functional constituency as an example of why Mr Lam is dead wrong and why this daft electoral idea is an open invitation to corruption.
There are 208 eligible voters in the transport constituency. I cannot tell you how many have actually registered to vote as the government keeps this a secret. The chart, however, gives you an idea of how it works.
Yes, that's right. The taxi business has 35 votes while the MTR Corp, which carries five times as many passengers, has only one vote. It's what they call balanced representation … in South Carolina.
Now to the dynamics of the taxi business. The number of taxis has been capped for more than 20 years at 18,138 despite a significant increase in population and wealth.
Most taxi drivers are not owners of their cars. They rent them for about HK$400 a shift with two shifts a day. This is a far greater burden on them than is required to pay off the HK$230,000 cost of a standard new Toyota Crown Comfort taxi.
The big cost, however, is not that of the car but of the taxi licence, which currently has a tradeable value of about HK$7 million.
What happened here is that an overly tight cap on the number of taxis, combined with taxi fares that were set too high by government edict for the real costs and wages involved, created a separate market in taxi licences. A long period of low interest rates then sent prices on this market rocketing up.
My estimate is that at least half of the fare you pay for a taxi ride goes to taxi licence speculators who contribute nothing at all to the business. Uber taxi, in my opinion, is the judgment of heaven on them.
But it is easily fixed, you may say. There are any number of options. We can, for instance, increase the number of taxi licences to a more fitting level and, when taxi drivers then say their incomes are pinched, tell the taxi speculators to revise their shift fees downwards. It would certainly reduce this ridiculous HK$7 million licence cost.
Try it against the largest single voting bloc in a functional constituency that the administration sees as a key support seat in the Legislative Council.
Here is the truth of the matter. You pay twice as much as you should have to pay for a taxi ride because we have given taxi owners a massive club that they wield not in the cause of Mr Lam's "unbiased opinion and knowledge" but to serve their own interests exclusively at your cost.
And, yes, I call this corruption, officially sanctioned and therefore safe from the law, but corruption nonetheless.
In fact, all functional constituencies suffer from this failing. We do not need them to bring greater expertise to government than government already has readily to hand. People from every profession and trade happily sit on government committees and consider it an honour to be asked for their advice.
But when people are given actual power in Legco to represent their professions and trades, it is exactly what they do. They act for the self interest of their little cabals alone, not for the general public good, and, as in transport, we often pay a real cash-out-of-your-wallet price for this.
The reason we have functional constituencies is that Beijing finds them easy to manipulate, not because they do anything worthwhile for us. They don't.