• Wed
  • Sep 3, 2014
  • Updated: 1:07pm
Public Eye
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 7:34am

Overpaid bureaucrats make big bucks speculating in property

BIO

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.
 

How many properties do you own? Just the flat you live in, if that? You're doing well if you own two. You must be rich if you have three in Hong Kong's overpriced property market. That's why Public Eye doesn't own even one. We simply can't afford it. Do you know how many properties Matthew Cheung Kin-chung owns? Eight. He must be a very wealthy man. Of course he is. He is secretary for labour and welfare. Do you know how many properties Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor owns? Four. She, too, must be rich. Now do you understand why Public Eye keeps on telling you we have grossly overpaid bureaucrats? Where else in the world can you find career civil servants who can afford to buy eight properties in one of the world's priciest property markets? Why do our top bureaucrats like to collect properties anyway? Stupid question. To make money, of course. You can make big bucks speculating in property or charging rip-off rents. Next question: is Cheung's mind more on his eight properties or on his overpaid job as the bureaucrat who is supposed to look after the welfare of poor people? Same question applies to Lam, who was development secretary overseeing the shame of subdivided flats before she became the government No2. Maybe that question is best answered by all those who live in poverty in one of the world's wealthiest cities.

Development boss has the gall to profit from cubicle flats...

Carrie Lam's short-lived successor as development secretary, Mak Chai-kwong - who's now facing an ICAC probe - did not collect flats to fatten his wallet. Instead, he apparently fiddled the government's rent allowance for civil servants so that taxpayers would end up buying his flat for him. The man who took over from him, Paul Chan Mo-po, owns only one flat. But he and his wife saw other opportunities to fatten the family wallet. She became a shareholder of a company that bought slum flats and partitioned them into tiny cubicles to rent to those who could afford no better. He was a director. Living off the poor, so to speak. Such squalid cubicles are a disgrace in wealthy Hong Kong. As development secretary, Chan is supposed to lead the charge against this sorry practice. He thinks he is still morally qualified to do that, even though the family profited from this shame of Hong Kong. Now do you know why we say our bureaucrats live in la-la land?

...but is shameless enough to stay in his position

Paul Chan is sticking to his guns even though opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of people say he's too tainted to keep his job. To save his skin he has promised not to invest in the property market while he is development secretary. His wife will also sell her shares in the company that profited from slum cubicles. But it's not a case of what you will do, Mr Chan. It's what you have already done. There's no mileage in a murderer telling a judge he won't murder any more. If you don't even know that, you must really be lost in la-la land.

Falling down on the job, along with the city's trees

Then there is a fellow by the name of Lawrence Chau Kam-chiu. Never heard of him? That's because he never shows his face. He is the overpaid head of the government's Tree Management Office. In the two years since the office was created, Chau has met only four times with its panel of outside tree experts. Wonder if he knows century-old banyan trees are suddenly falling down all over the place? If a tree falls down in the city and overpaid tree management boss Chau is not there to hear it, does it make a sound?

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