Lai See

What's good for the civil service is good for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 5:17am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 5:17am

Just over a year ago, the government appointed 11 non-official members to the Steering Committee on Population Policy. The idea was that the committee would "identify the main social, economic and policy challenges which require further study regarding changes to Hong Kong's population profile in the next 30 years. It will recommend strategies and practical measures for pursuing the objectives of Hong Kong's population policy, and advise on the priority of these measures."

The appointments came shortly after the Census and Statistics Department had revised down its population forecast for 2041 from 8.89 million to 8.47 million. This adjustment appears to have had little impact on the colleagues at the Transport Department.

Hong Kong's population in mid-2012 was officially 7.2 million, which is forecast by Census and Statistics to rise to 7.37 million by 2016.

Meanwhile, their colleagues at the Transport Department appear to be oblivious to these forecasts. In its latest update in August last year to the "Third Comprehensive Transport Study", which embraces the period 1997 to 2016, it apparently remains content with its three population scenarios for 2016: 8.2 million, 8.9 million and 10 million, all of which are significantly higher than those produced by the Census and Statistics Department.

According to the Census and Statistics estimates, 8.2 million will be achieved in 2031, while 8.9 million will not be reached until way past 2041. The 10 million scenario is pie in the sky.

Maybe it thinks nobody will notice. The last thing the department wants to contemplate is the prospect of having to downsize its vast concrete laying plans, since that would imply - horror of horrors - reducing the size of the department. "That would be unthinkable," as Yes Minister ' s Sir Humphrey Appleby might have said.

It is illustrative of what is becoming increasingly obvious these days: that the government is being run for the benefit of the civil service rather than the community at large. Its estimates and forecasts are made on the basis of what is good for the civil service rather than what suits Hong Kong.

It is time to get a grip of this situation. The finances are out of control in that the government has more money than it knows what to do with, and yet we are fed, on almost a daily basis, hogwash from the financial secretary about running out of reserves.

The civil service needs reforming and reminding who it is supposed to serve. But we all know that reforming the civil service is one of the hardest things to do. Like telling rabbits to give up lettuce.


Illegal parking economics

A reader writes of the fickleness of the way illegally parked cars are dealt with. On Monday, which was a holiday, he parked his car at noon just outside his office at Harcourt House on Gloucester Road, along with three other cars. When he returned at 2.30pm, he noticed he had been ticketed at 1.10pm.

"Very efficient," he thought to himself. But he also reflected that on any given working day, there are at least 15 to 20 cars permanently parked on the same stretch of road, and no one ever gets ticketed. On occasions he sees traffic wardens walking past and asks them why they are ignoring the cars, but they continue oblivious to the vehicles.

He adds that since parking all day in the nearby Admiralty car park would cost about HK$150, and given the laxity of enforcement, and the paltry level of the HK$320 fine, the outside chance of being fined seemed a risk worth taking.

"Is it any wonder why we have such an on street parking mess," he says.


Bank scandals

Another day, another banking scandal. This one has been gathering momentum for a while but its severity was highlighted by recent remarks by Martin Wheatley, formerly with the Securities and Futures Commission and now head of Britain's Financial Conduct Authority.

Commenting on allegations that big banks have been manipulating foreign exchange rates, he said, "The allegations are every bit as bad as the Libor scandal, and the investigation would probably stretch into 2015. Investigations have been extended to 10 banks and already about 20 forex traders have either left or been suspended by their companies."


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