For HK to run like clockwork, good timing is key

Previous governments have been slow off the mark, but CY is starting to tackle issues swiftly

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 4:03am

The Hong Kong government has already missed a few opportunities to address the city's problems.

The former administration, for example, didn't pay any attention as the housing market went astray. And the annual budgets, again and again, have overlooked chances to invest in the city's future. They produce short-term sweetening measures without helping Hong Kong's long-term development.

Nevertheless, there are two recent incidents in which I feel the government has discharged its duties at the right time and in the right way.

The first was the response to last month's hot-air balloon disaster in Egypt, which killed 19 people, including nine Hongkongers. The government wasted no time in forming a team from the Immigration Department, Hospital Authority and police, along with forensic experts, to go to Egypt and provide all necessary logistical and psychological support for the Hongkongers involved.

They left for Egypt within eight hours of the accident, and demonstrated a high level of professionalism while performing their duties with care and passion.

Yet somehow the community seems to have taken this effective response for granted.

The second case is the government's effort to limit outbound travellers to two cans of baby milk powder, to ensure a sufficient supply for local mothers. It is unfair of critics to say the move violates free-market principles.

In fact, similar restrictions apply in many countries. In Australia, local pharmacies impose a similar restriction on the sale of baby milk powder to avoid local supplies depleting.

Australian pharmacies could mark up the price to earn a few extra dollars, like those in Hong Kong. Yet they do not; the Australians feel a responsibility to the local market.

Hong Kong's so-called free-market practices allowed pharmacies to hoard stocks and inflate prices at the expense of everyone except, of course, themselves.

We are dealing with a huge demand from the mainland. Without government regulation the city will suffer. But we can't force corporate social responsibility on operators who are interested only in profit.

For the time being, the restriction works and will remain as long as required.

We urge the government to implement measures that can improve the well-being of the community. We hope those who criticise any measures will try to understand the situation.

Even mainland government officials have criticised the restrictions on milk powder sales. It is our duty to explain Hong Kong's problems rather than simply bow to pressure.

Hongkongers should be thankful for the government's diligent efforts in these two cases.

If we were all more appreciative, and did not take such actions for granted, the city could be more harmonious.

Paul Yip is director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, and professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong