Religious groups should be held accountable, too
Chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam is right to seek a review of the perks enjoyed by the Catholic Church and other religious organisations
For a devout Catholic, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor seems oblivious to the politicking of which local Christian leaders are capable. Rather naively, the front runner in the chief executive race proposed in her policy manifesto to set up a new religious affairs unit under the Home Affairs Bureau to “coordinate relevant policies”. Among issues to be reviewed would be land rental for religious purpose.
Predictably, Catholic and Protestant leaders are up in arms, warning she is trying to import mainland-style repression to control religion in Hong Kong. Maybe Lam is trying to go communist on local religions. I doubt it. Our largest religious groups have their own earthly interests in land, finance and funding to protect beyond their higher spiritual missions. Unlike matters of worship or belief, these issues are not off limit to the government, especially when they cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year.
The Election Committee for the chief executive poll has often been ridiculed for assigning 60 seats to the agriculture and fisheries subsector. It’s just as absurd, if not more so, that the religious subsector also gets 60 seats. This is on top of their extensive influence in other subsectors such as education and social welfare.
Protestant and Catholic groups lead in the provision of social services outside of the government. Slightly more than half of kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong have religious affiliations. Many of our top schools are Catholic. Five out of the six religious hospitals are Christian, with one being Buddhist. All of these are not free. They get most if not all of their funding from the government. Like most other such groups in Hong Kong, they are happy to take taxpayer money but reject supervision or accountability as interference. The last time the government tried to reform school management standards, it had to fight the Catholic Diocese all the way to the Court of Final Appeal. While the Catholic Church owns most of its land, other religious groups enjoy preferential rents or grants. Some are as ruthless in their building projects as any developer.
We are a rich society in the 21st century, not like in the old days when the poor had to rely on religious charities. It’s high time the government review its subventions and land provisions for religious groups. But hey, that’s religious persecution!