If there is one characteristic that is common to politicians and government officials the world over, it is their inability - except in the most desperate circumstances - to admit having made a mistake. The most prominent example is US President Bill Clinton, who arrogantly refused to apologise for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, until the threat of impeachment forced him to begin doing so with almost embarrassing frequency. Senior officials in Hong Kong are far from immune from the same trait with one example having already arisen this week, when Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief executive Joseph Yam Chi-kwong sparked a brief run on the Hong Kong dollar with a single, unwise remark. Mr Yam made the mistake of telling a Chinese-language newspaper he would 'shortly' and 'suddenly' reduce the rate at which the authority undertakes to buy US dollars from local banks to $7.75 from $7.80. This may seem a marginal adjustment. But it still amounts to 500 basis points: enough to generate large profits on the huge sums traded in the money markets. Despite a year spent battling speculators, Mr Yam inexplicably failed to recognise that by saying, in effect, he was about to devalue the Hong Kong dollar by this small amount, he was handing them a golden opportunity to make a one-way bet against the local currency. Instead he denied there was any danger, arrogantly daring his critics to try to make a profit out of this adjustment. 'See whether you have the skills to earn this 500-basis-point spread,' he told the Hong Kong Economic Journal. Mr Yam must now be bitterly regretting laying down a challenge that the market proved more than capable of meeting during Monday's selling spree. By some estimates, his mistake cost the SAR $9.33 billion: the amount the authority had to buy in response to the selling provoked by his remarks. The error also exacted a wider economic toll, with interbank rates rising, reversing their recent fall. But did Mr Yam apologise for his multi-billion-dollar error? Far from it. Instead his hasty U-turn, in announcing the adjustment would be postponed for at least six months, was portrayed as a response to pressure from banks for more time to settle their accounts. Yesterday Mr Yam was busy blaming the market for its 'over-sensitive' reaction to his earlier remarks. Such an unrepentant attitude is not entirely surprising - Mr Yam's personality is such that he is unlikely to admit being wrong about anything. Nor is such arrogance unusual among Hong Kong officials. Financial Secretary Donald 'Christmas' Tsang Yam-kuen never apologised for predicting the financial turmoil would be over by the end of last year, nor for giving an A+ grade to his handling of the crisis. But there is an example all those reluctant to admit mistakes can learn from, and this is the Democratic Party, which is always quick to apologise for its errors. This week has seen another example, with chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming retracting his unfounded allegation that Beijing ordered Tung Chee-hwa to intervene in the financial markets. Previous instances of equally commendable repentance have included the party's apologies for fielding two election candidates with foreign passports and for nine of its Urban Councillors buying shares by a back-door route. No one ever likes to have to admit making mistakes. But the party's willingness to do so does it credit while senior officials' refusal to do likewise reflects poorly on them. Given this disparity is it any surprise that, while the Democrats still sweep to victory at every election, the Government's popularity has repeatedly sunk to new lows?