Bow to populism on milk powder

Michael Chugani says on the milk powder issue, our government is rightly putting people's lives ahead of abstract principles

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 March, 2013, 2:32am

Why do mainland mothers so desperately want to buy baby milk powder in Hong Kong, even at vastly inflated prices? We all know why. They don't trust what's sold on the mainland. So what does the state-owned Global Times do? It savages the Hong Kong government for limiting outbound travellers to two cans to ensure local mothers have enough.

Shouldn't the Global Times instead direct its criticism at the mainland authorities for its appalling failure to ensure food safety? Even national leaders, including outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, have acknowledged over the past week the low public confidence in the mainland's food safety. Hong Kong's two-can limit is simply a consequence of mainlanders having lost faith in their own food safety.

Public pressure forced the government to impose this rule. Hongkongers no longer wanted to tolerate competing with parallel goods traders for infant formula and paying inflated prices to profiteering shop owners. Shortly before the rule came into effect, I saw a distraught mother with her baby and domestic helper asking a supermarket check-out cashier if there was any more of the popular brand she wanted. They were told to try the pharmacy next door. It was incomprehensible to me that, in a developed society like ours, a mother had to hunt from shop to shop for infant formula to feed her baby.

It's too bad people like Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo and Tourism Board boss James Tien Pei-chun weren't there. Both have jumped on the Global Times bandwagon to condemn the Leung Chun-ying administration for violating free market principles with its two-can rule. The free market, which allowed pharmacies to hoard and inflate the price of infant formula, parallel goods traders to snap up all available stock, and suppliers to strong-arm shops into buying bundled milk powder, caused the distress of the mother I saw.

To hell with the free market. Hong Kong people should always come first. If aspects of the free market fail to serve the interests of Hongkongers, we should do what's best for us rather than be a slave to the free market. Hoo railed against the Leung administration for bowing to populism. If not to the common people, then who should the government bow to? Big business? Hasn't it done enough of that already?

Tien's slavish worship of the free market extends to the unlimited flow of mainland visitors to Hong Kong. In mocking the chief executive, he said he can't see how the flood of mainlanders had disrupted local life. He should leave his chauffeured car at home for a day and ride the MTR. If not, he should at least ask his Legislative Council constituents, who include those in the northern district most affected by the influx of mainlanders, whether they want him to be tourism boss first and their elected representative second.

To the Leung administration, I say: bow to populism. If the common people say the swelling numbers of mainland visitors and the mad grab for infant formula have disrupted their lives, then listen to them. It has nothing to do with being unpatriotic or ungrateful for the motherland's largesse. It is simply the will of the people.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.