Hong Kong needs to honour its real heroes, not government yes-men

Peter Kammerer says it's time to replace Hong Kong's self-serving, elitist honours list with awards for ordinary folk, based on true merit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 2:13am

Here's definitive proof of how self-serving, elitist and backward-thinking our leaders are: Hong Kong's latest honours list. The system is meant to recognise people who have done good work for the community, yet it's more about wealth and privilege. Get chosen for a particular government position, give patronage to the right person or simply hang out with the chosen crowd and a Grand Bauhinia medal or a gold, silver or bronze star is yours. It's outdated and should be replaced by awards based on role models and merit.

The long-departed British empire used to give out its honours in the same way our government still does - the only real change is the name of the awards. A Grand Bauhinia Medal, the top honour, invariably goes to holders of the main government positions, the chief executive and the chief, finance and justice secretaries. That in itself tells you what this is all about. If there's still an element of doubt, though, take a look at Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, the media and tobacco tycoon who last Tuesday was handed a GBM by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

Let's ignore the fact that Ho runs a company that deals in cancer-causing tobacco. Instead, turn to his support in 2012 for Leung's opponent for chief executive, former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, voiced ever-so-publicly through his Sing Tao media publications. Tang lost and Leung won, and Ho's newspapers have since changed their tune. Hey, presto! On July 1, he received a GBM, "in recognition of his distinguished service to the community, particularly his contribution to the media industry".

The theme of loyalty and support applies to many of this year's 283 recipients. They went to a gaggle of the predictable, from serving and retired judges and senior civil servants and lawmakers to top members of district councils, government statutory bodies and committees, to businesspeople. Typical is the Gold Bauhinia Star given to Au King-chi, permanent secretary for financial services and treasury, for "her exemplary contributions in the areas of planning and lands, economic development and financial services". Being in the government's employ for the past 31 years, she is being paid handsomely for her efforts and her generous pension will continue to reward her after she retires. This is a job, not community service.

The selection committee can get it right, as with the GBM in 2010 for philanthropist Tin Ka-ping, a low-key promoter of education here and on the mainland. But it also has a record of honouring too little or too late. World-renowned botanist Hu Shiu-ying died in 2012 at the age of 102 with only a bronze star, despite discovering and identifying 185,000 species; she had dedicated her life to researching the health benefits of plants to improve the lives of the world's people. Charles Kao Kuen was given a GBM in 2010, the year after he was awarded a Nobel Prize for physics for his ground-breaking work in fibre optics.

Ordinary people should get the awards - teachers, doctors and others who do genuine good for the community; people like Sham Shui Po restaurant owner Chan Cheuk-ming, who gives cheap meals to the poor and, every Saturday, free food to the homeless.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post