Nelson Mandela

Hong Kong's Legco shows its pettiness in not honouring Mandela

Stephen Vines says majority excel at showing how small-minded they are

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 6:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 2:42am

Have you ever heard of Sheriff Rick Clark of Pickens County, South Carolina? No? I thought not, and only mention this nonentity because he is one of the very few officials in the world who managed to find an excuse not to honour the memory of the late and great Nelson Mandela.

Clark refused to lower the US flag at his office despite a presidential executive order to do so.

There is one other name to be added to this tiny roll call of shame - it is the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.

The world was hardly shaken by news that a majority of members in Hong Kong's legislature found a procedural excuse not to hold an adjournment debate in honour of this remarkable leader, but it is certainly a matter of concern for local people.

The majority in Legco have rarely missed a chance to miss a chance, but in this instance the undistinguished coalition of non-elected representatives from the rotten boroughs and their best friends from the elected side of the pro-government camp have excelled by joining forces to demonstrate that when it comes to being small-minded they are truly world-beaters.

Avoiding the real point at issue, they chose instead to proffer a slew of procedural excuses for not holding this rather modest debate designed to show Hong Kong's deepest respect for Mandela.

Behind this shameful behaviour was a fear that any debate would raise the dreaded issues of human rights and democracy, with pointed comparisons being drawn between Hong Kong and South Africa. On an even more petty level there was the reflex reaction of simply voting against anything that had emanated from the democratic side of the Legco fence.

Here, laid bare for all to see, was the staggering parochialism of the Legco majority, who are so wrapped up in their petty concerns that they seem hardly aware of what is happening in the rest of the world.

This was a vivid demonstration of the extent to which the legislature is simply not fit for purpose.

Although it was constructed to provide the administration with tame voting fodder for its policies, it does not even do that well and it is constitutionally designed to block policy alternatives coming from outside the ranks of the administration.

And even when it comes to simple gestures that are compatible with Hong Kong's status as an international centre, Legco shirks it responsibility to do the decent thing.

Cynics will merely shrug and ask: what do you expect?

But cynicism is a kind of poison that serves as an excuse for inaction. We lower our expectations of what to expect from legislators, then complain when they do not even match these lowered expectations.

Little will change as long as the current system of rotten boroughs remains in place.

It may be argued that a failure to honour Mandela is very much a side issue in this whole debate, but it is often what happens around the edges that tells us a great deal about what is happening at the core.

In fact, this is quite a good example of why the city that portrays itself as being an Asian global centre is slipping slowly and sadly into becoming a backwater.

All is not lost because, as ever, the magnificent people of Hong Kong responded to the death of Mandela in a much more impressive way than the weasels in Legco.

This was reflected in a number of ways, such as the many postings on local social media sites, events held at schools and by an impressive service of remembrance at St John's Cathedral.

Is it really too much to expect that the legislature at least vaguely comes up to the standards of the people it purports to represent?

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur