'The approach of business so far to politics has tended to be rather reactive, conservative and behind the scenes' Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen AND NOW WHO is going to claim that senior officials of the Tung administration are not perfectly aware of the nature of the business interests with which they deal? I am not saying Tung Chee-hwa himself is aware of it, of course. The description is rather one of his own character, which is what you would expect, given how that character was formed by a business career. Mr Tsang, however, is no businessman. He is a career civil servant and he has hit the nail on the head. But what he perhaps fails to understand is that it is natural for businessmen in their relations with government to be reactive, conservative and to operate behind the scenes. Such behaviour has evolved to be the best way for any business to advance its own interests and this is what its shareholders expect it to do. Let me emphasise the point. A big corporation is more democratic than our government. Its directors are directly responsible to its shareholders. They have been voted as directors by the shareholders and the job they have been appointed to do is get the dividends or the share price up, preferably both. I grant you that this form of democracy can seem a tenuous one in family-controlled companies but it still exists in any company to the extent that there is more than one shareholder and it is not a notional responsibility. Directors have a legal obligation to shareholders. They can be sued if they act against shareholders' interests. This is more than you can say for the obligation of a legislator to his electorate. So to ask corporate directors to do more for society at large by becoming more active in politics, which is what Mr Tsang did on Wednesday in a speech to the General Chamber of Commerce, is to ask for divided loyalties. It is all very well, and in fact laudable, for a director to do it in a purely private capacity but he accepted a prior call on his loyalty when he accepted appointment to his company's board. This is not to say that corporate directors are inactive in politics. They are mostly very active. It is my guess that any senior executive director of a big company effectively spends at least half of his time working government in one way or another for advantages and concessions to his company. Find me the businessman who really believes in a free and open market. All well and good in principle but, when it comes to that businessman's own market, what he wants is to clear his competitors out of the way and set his prices high. One way of doing it is to produce better goods more efficiently than anyone else can do. Another way is to complain to government officials of disorderliness in the market and plead that there will be a better deal for everyone if only one small regulatory measure is adopted or retained for the greater benefit of the economy. That second way is easier and often more rewarding than the first and the best way of carrying it out is to be reactive to events, conservative in proposal and, most of all, to do it behind the scenes. A quiet lunch with a well-rehearsed line of patter to the right person is likely to achieve more than a public speech and there is no faulting the businessman for taking this route. He has an obligation to his shareholders to do what will best serve their purposes. If only Mr Tsang would recognise that this is the natural approach of business to government, he might realise that government's approach to business should take a different tack. Government is the referee in business matters. It does not take sides on the field or seek to join forces with the business team. It is meant to be independent of the players and ensure that the game will proceed according to the rules. It should recognise that businessmen will seek their own advantage first, as will consumer groups and professional bodies, and that it must keep its distance from them all. Its job is not to build consensus. The only consensus on the field is that everyone wants to win. The best team will win, however, only if the referee takes no sides. Unfortunately, it has already taken sides. Half of the Legislative Council's 60 members are returned by functional constituencies, which is an euphemistic way of saying that they represent business interests. So why, Mr Tsang, do you think that business does not take enough of a direct interest in politics when it already dominates Legco? And, if even then you find its approach to politics to be reactive, conservative and behind the scenes, blame yourself. Businessmen would not find an ear in government that way if you did not give them one.