Business has a role to play in our future
It can work with the government provided the procedures are transparent and fair
"Collusion between government and business" - a term that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying once proudly claimed was no longer being used to criticise the government - became a key phrase over the past week.
First, the government turned down property mogul Lee Shau-kee's offer to donate some of his farmland to be used to build affordable flats for young people and urged him instead to work with non profit organisations. It was widely believed this was to prevent a perception that the project was the "government colluding with a developer" under another guise.
It so happened that on the same day Lee was invited to have a rare meeting with a group of news executives during which he expressed understanding of the government's rejection of his plan, and showed his support for the chief executive.
Lee strongly dismissed any suggestion that there was a hidden agenda behind his donation, adding that the government stuck to very strict, even harsh, rules in dealing with developers. He joked that senior officials did not even dare have lunch or dinner with developers any more.
A day after that, the government announced its ambitious new town building plan in the northeastern New Territories, based on a partnership between the private sector and the government. This partnership model has again drawn comments about a "collusion".
On the eve of July 1, during a meeting with media representatives, the chief executive proudly claimed: "Today in Hong Kong, the public no longer accuses the government of colluding with big business." Why Leung made that remark is understandable. The July 1 protest was approaching, and this year, one particularly strong demand for genuine universal suffrage was expected. Over the past decade, July 1 has become more than a celebration. It is also a day when the public can air their grievances and vent their anger over social injustice and certain government policies, thus Leung needed to remind the public his administration had done its best for the grassroots without favouring big business.
There will be contradictory views about what Leung's administration has or has not achieved so far from various parties and stakeholders. But interestingly, when Leung claims credit for the government avoiding "colluding with big business", some will interpret it to mean his relationship with the business sector is still "poor", and that he has yet to get full support from business.
"Government colluding with business" has been a major public complaint for years, mainly due to the widening wealth gap and soaring property prices. After taking office, Leung made livelihood issues, such as housing and poverty relief, a priority, but that also became the excuse for the government to not start public consultation on how to implement universal suffrage, claiming that it had to concentrate on improving the people's lives first.
Like two sides of a coin, livelihood and universal suffrage are not mutually exclusive. Hongkongers want the government to tackle issues of housing and poverty, but they see no contradiction in it starting an earlier engagement with the public on constitutional reform.
Keeping a corruption-free government is vital, but both the public and the government should be sensible enough to recognise that business can work together with government for the common good, provided procedures are transparent and fair. What the public cannot tolerate is "collusion" of whatever type that only favours certain big businesses. At the same time, the business sector needs to be more vocal about its views on universal suffrage.