WHERE DOES OUR government find them? I mean not just the hare-brained ideas but the people who sponsor them. You have to ask when you hear of the latest scheme to emanate from Henry Tang Ying-yen, one of that crop of principal officials appointed last year. Mr Tang, who holds the post of Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, all of them fields in which government has little business and less expertise, wants to make formal appointments of prominent Hong Kong businessmen to promote the SAR to overseas investors. On the surface this sounds just fine, of course. Why not have respected people outside of government tell the Hong Kong story abroad? Our government officials are hardly up to the job. They often have a hard time telling the Hong Kong story to their own people without wringing their hands about how bad things are, even when they have good news to relate. The specific idea is that very successful, knowledgeable and well connected (and on and on and on) businessmen will take representatives of InvestHK (our coals to Newcastle agency) along with them on business trips abroad and introduce their contacts to InvestHK, which will then follow up with the razzmatazz. Let us think about this a little more closely, however. In the first place, Mr Tang wants money for this effort, part of a HK$200 million fund set up in last week's budget (a belt-tightening budget, you understand) to promote foreign investment. But if, as he claims, these businessmen 'are willing and prepared to spend their own time to promote Hong Kong . . .', where does this need for money come in? And what do we expect these businessmen to do that they do not already do? For instance, the one person he cited as having signed up for this promotion, battery manufacturer Victor Lo Chung-wing, is, among other things, already chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, chairman of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp, a council member of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and a Gold Bauhinia Star holder for his technology-promotion efforts. It strikes me that every one of these already entails heavy obligations to promoting Hong Kong overseas. His shareholders in Gold Peak Industries may well wonder whether he should not rather be promoting their interests more. But let us say that he now goes on a trip to do so and takes some eager people from InvestHK along with him to meet his contacts. Mr Lo's purpose on such a trip would be to sell Gold Peak's line of batteries, wall switches and car audios and his contacts will be people who buy such things in bulk. What are the InvestHK staffers then to do with these contacts? Are they to suggest purchases from sources other than Gold Peak? Mr Lo would really appreciate this, would he not? Or perhaps they may tell these contacts of Hong Kong's wonderful investment opportunities, which, since they are in the battery, switch or car audio trades would mean investing in new plants to produce these things in the Pearl River Delta. Once again, that would be a real return of favours to Mr Lo. Alternatively, Mr Lo may go on such a trip to promote Gold Peak Industries' shares to foreign portfolio investors and InvestHK could then tell his audiences to put their money into things other than Gold Peak. You can just hear the applause from Mr Lo. No, you are not deaf. The fact is that when a businessman goes abroad on a trip specifically related to his business the only promotional effort InvestHK staffers can make by going along to meet people they would not otherwise meet is further promotion of that businessman's business. Why should the taxpayers pay for this? And if the trip instead has the general purpose of promoting Hong Kong, then these narrowly focused contacts will prove of little use. InvestHK is in any case perfectly capable of doing this on its own or, at least, we must assume so if we are to give it an additional HK$200 million for this purpose. More than this, let us get back to the coals to Newcastle character of InvestHK. I have said it before but it obviously needs saying again. Hong Kong has HK$1.2 trillion more of claims on foreigners than foreigners have on Hong Kong, almost the size of our economy, and our financial system at the moment has about HK$200 billion more of deposits than it has of loans. We do not need foreign investment inflows. The world is divided into providers and recipients of capital and we are firmly in the provider camp. It is what has made us an international financial centre. It is what has made us rich. What we need is not foreign money but domestic investment opportunities and the general environment of deflation has made these scarce at the moment. Mr Tang's scheme is pointless, almost as pointless in fact as InvestHK itself.