Hong Kong losing talent because of bickering and grandstanding

The good and the smart are leaving the city in droves thanks to bad policymaking, divisiveness and constant politicising

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 February, 2017, 1:31am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 February, 2017, 1:31am

In today’s no-can-do Hong Kong, bickering and grandstanding is the norm. Is it any wonder that good and smart people are leaving in droves? Soon we will be left with incompetent sycophants and rabble-rousing windbags in positions of power and influence.

News reports on the resignation of University of Hong Kong chief Peter Mathieson have described it as a shock and a surprise. But is it really?

The vice-chancellor once called it the best job in the world; it looks more like one of the worst. Caught between the student Red Guards on campus and the imperious and disruptive Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as council chairman, it must be a total nightmare.

Who wouldn’t quit for the literally greener and more peaceful pasture of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, over the daily urban jungle warfare in Hong Kong?

Already, the usual suspects are speculating why Mathieson quit two years ahead of his contract’s expiry. The pan-democrats claim the pro-government management headed by Li is to blame. Others say it’s the highly politicised and divisive student body led by a few overly radicalised scholars. They are probably both right. Mathieson says he is quitting for “personal reasons”, the classic non-explanation when someone of importance prematurely quits his or her job in Hong Kong.

A baptism by fire: HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson’s term marked by political storms and mass protests

His resignation follows a pattern of eminent outsiders who failed to lead such public bodies because of constant infighting. West Kowloon Cultural District Authority CEO Michael Lynch quit in 2015 citing – you guessed it – “personal reasons”. His predecessor Graham Sheffield just bought a plane ticket and skipped town five months into his job. I am not condoning Sheffield’s behaviour, but can kind of understand it. The arts hub is a classic basket case of a public body led astray by bad government policymaking and constant politicising by the opposition.

HKU will soon have to launch a global search for a replacement. It already has two unfilled senior posts – those of the provost and the vice-president for institutional development.

It’s telling that it will have so many senior vacancies. As the city’s oldest and most prestigious university, you would think people would be fighting over each other for a shot at the top.

The university needs more than a scholar or manager, but a real politician and diplomat, to lead it. Good luck finding such a person.