It’s time to challenge the ever-popular myth that while government departments are characterised by incompetence, bungling, indolence and general folly, the city’s private sector, sharpened by the unforgiving instruments of our competitive economy, is little short of perfect.
If true, why are the aisles in my local supermarket so narrow that shoppers have to initiate a voluntary one-way system just to reach the required section, only to find the shelves screened by an elaborate wall of storage boxes? It’s only possible to grab the desired cut-price Chilean chardonnay from the shelf by carefully creating a small window in the unstable cardboard wall, in a highly hazardous game of Tetris.
Everyone knows it’s almost impossible to purchase a ticket online from our best known airline, which is presumably too busy losing billions of dollars on fuel-price hedging to worry about economy-class sales. I managed it once, only to receive an e-mail the following day saying it had changed my booking.
Unless you know otherwise, the most profoundly dysfunctional business in Hong Kong is perhaps the courier service that took almost two months to fail to deliver a shirt the 19km from Nathan Road to my home. They could have dispatched it by donkey and cart and it would still have arrived sooner, and their “highly valued” customer would not have been obliged to rescue it from a pile of wet jiffy bags in the local 7-Eleven. The truth is we are plagued by private-sector incompetence on a daily basis.
By contrast, on calling the 1823 government helpline to report a felled tree on the remote road leading to my apartment, the response was exemplary. Unlike the useless delivery company, the government still adopts the increasingly outdated practice of answering the phone. A very polite man called Henry arranged for the large tree to be removed within 24 hours – not two months.
Maybe it’s time for Henry to run some training courses for those business types whose main qualifications for running a company seem to be inheriting lots of family money and wearing a suit.