Pan-democrats' obstructionist tactics will cost them dearly in the end

Mike Rowse says public is getting tired of their endless opposition

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 May, 2015, 5:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 May, 2015, 5:00am

It is getting increasingly difficult to understand, let alone sympathise with, the strategy and tactics being employed by the pan-democrats in their ongoing struggle with the government over political reform.

Take this latest brouhaha over proposed co-location of Hong Kong and mainland immigration posts at the terminus of the express rail. Leave aside that the terminus is in the wrong place (West Kowloon instead of the New Territories), will be years late and will cost twice as much as promised - and the one aspect that does make sense is co-location at the terminus.

But what do our beloved pan-dems say? Such an arrangement would undermine "one country, two systems". Oh, for heaven's sake. Last time I flew from Canada to the US, I went through US immigration in Vancouver. Last time I took the train from Paris to London, I went through British immigration in France.

Does that mean these four countries have all been surrendering sovereignty to each other? Of course not; it is simply the most practical, pragmatic arrangement. The working arrangements of the government staff involved are the same, just done in a different place. The beneficiaries are the passengers. The principle seems to be that if the Hong Kong and central governments agree on something, it must be opposed for opposition's sake, even if it would benefit Hong Kong people.

What alternative are the pan-dems suggesting? The train shoots off from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, then 10 minutes later, everyone gets off and goes through mainland immigration there, then gets back on the train? You couldn't make it up.

The argument that the arrangement would mean mainland immigration officials exercising their powers on Hong Kong soil is a complete red herring. I've got news for you, guys, they are already here and have been for decades. Issue of home-return permits to local residents by the China Travel Service is supervised by immigration officials seconded from Guangdong. How else could official mainland travel documents be issued?

So while this row about nothing rolls on, the backdrop is the filibustering. The budget debate is bogged down by countless amendments. A few are meaningful and they should be discussed and voted on, point made and we all move on.

Meanwhile, it is extremely difficult to get items through the public works subcommittee, where the pan-dems have majority control, following a procedural ambush at the beginning of the Legislative Council year. Some urgent projects will have to bypass the subcommittee and go straight to the full Finance Committee, but the pan-democrats have warned of more filibustering there.

Many important items are being held up, costs will rise and the public is being denied the benefits that would flow from approval. Must everything, however critical, be sacrificed on the altar of civic nomination?

Let me give one small example of what this tactic means in practice. The project to build a new sports complex at Kai Tak has finally got through the public works subcommittee. But because of the backlog of work, it is proving very difficult to find room for it on the agenda of the full Finance Committee. If not approved by the summer recess, we will lose another six months on a project that is already years behind when we really needed it.

Do the pan-democrats realise that it will take decades for the sporting community to forgive them if this happens?

On political reform, I find both governments have behaved in a disappointing way and could have done much more to try to win public and moderate democratic support. They have chosen not to do so and history will mark their failure.

The pan-democrats have also played their hand badly by holding out for the unattainable instead of trying to find a sensible compromise, even attacking one of their own when he tried to rescue something from the wreckage. But what is really going to cost them support in the election round about to start at district, legislative and chief executive levels is the mindless nihilism of their response.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk