IT is difficult not to feel sorry for the Government - of all the times for an incoming administration to try and make its mark, the past 12 months could not have been worse. As if the flurry of feathers surrounding successive food scares were not enough to cope with, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's administration has also had to grapple with the worst financial collapse in recent memory. It would take a team of the most skilled and politically agile administrators to successfully navigate through the succession of policy pitfalls that have marked the past year - little wonder, then, that Hong Kong's Government has often been found wanting. What Hong Kong needs in these dark days is not the kind of leadership that can make far-reaching and radical policy decisions at the speed demanded by the fast-shifting market conditions. The Government must send out a clear signal of its intentions on which international investors can rely, safe in the knowledge that they will not find themselves behind some financial policy off-side trap. Take property. Last year the Government intervened in the market to correct what it perceived to be rampant inflation in property prices, only to be caught on the hop by the severity of the ensuing correction. What was the response? A policy reversal - and, by all appearances, one that was all-too hastily cobbled together. As one market source put it: 'It's just a reflection that Tung's not a leader - he's in bed with developers and everybody knows that. 'The Government is intervening in an area where it's not supposed to be intervening at all.' Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen defends the move, saying the Government has always dabbled in the property market, ever since it embarked on the public housing programme in the 1950s. True. But the issue of the supply of new land and public housing has always been out in the open for the market to see. When was the last time the Government was seen making such an effort to manipulate prices? If, as Mr Tsang said last week, the move was only a 'fine-tuning of the supply situation for a few months', where does this leave prospective home-buyers? Shall I pay now, only to see the downward spiral recommence in April next year? Or take economic growth. How can the Chief Executive make a public statement saying the economy had contracted in the first quarter, only for his Financial Secretary to come out days later with bland reassurances that there was no need to change forecasts for economic growth. As one trader said at the time: 'It looks a bit ridiculous. Do those two even talk to each other?' Can we really believe that the Financial Secretary was unaware of the parlous state of the economy? Either he was making a misguided attempt to paper over the cracks in confidence or he had been grievously ill-informed. Either way, it is one of the peculiarities of Hong Kong that the Government is allowed to get away with it. More important, how do we - and when it comes to it, the international investor - know we are now getting the full story?