The Age of Greed

Michael Chugani says for all the gains of a closer relationship with the mainland, we are paying the price with a slide in moral decency

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 4:17am

Every society has its share of greed, but it seems like ours is consumed by it. As a developed city and financial centre, I can understand Hong Kong having the big-scale greed we see in Wall Street. But greed permeates our society. The extent of it came into sharp focus with two unrelated events over the past few weeks.

Petty greed drove travel agencies to fleece mainlanders who ended up sleeping in seedy guest houses and even a tourist bus. Greed on a mega scale drove property giant Cheung Kong to sell flats disguised as hotel rooms so buyers could avoid the government's market-cooling measures. It didn't bother Cheung Kong that by exploiting loopholes to line its pocket, it had undercut government efforts to stabilise the market.

It seems to me the more we integrate with the mainland, the more it exacerbates our greed. Aside from crooked travel agents, we now also have crooked taxi drivers who drive off with the belongings of mainland visitors, profiteering shopkeepers who hoard and raise the price of daily necessities, such as baby milk power, to feed the mainland's hunger for quality goods, infant formula suppliers who force retailers to buy bundled products, and the mega greed of landlords who double shop rents in prime locations catering to mainlanders.

Aren't big companies such as Cheung Kong, owned by Li Ka-shing, the world's ninth-richest man, supposed to have corporate social responsibility? Its exploiting of loopholes to sell 360 units of its Apex Horizon Hotel in Kwai Chung was anything but socially responsible. It fuelled a lunatic market that has already made homes unaffordable to most Hongkongers. Why would Cheung Kong, which is worth tens of billions of dollars, soil its name for a mere HK$1.4 billion more?

What are ordinary Hongkongers, aspiring homeowners and subdivided-flat dwellers to think when Cheung Kong gives the government the finger this way? My immediate reaction was that people would see it as further proof of the so-called property hegemony of our tycoons. Where are we heading as a society when supermarkets fake sales, greedy landlords drive families into subdivided flats and small-shop owners out of business, parallel goods traders disrupt daily life, and property developers feed the speculative frenzy by selling parking spaces for preposterous prices? It seems both honesty and moral decency have been sucked out of the city. Everyone is out to make a quick buck.

The price we're paying was written on the face of an elderly worker mopping the floor at closing time at an outlet of a local fast-food chain where I was having dinner recently. Looking miserable and tired, she could hardly bend down to pick up her bucket of water. She and others like her, who survive on a measly minimum wage of around HK$6,000 a month, are at the last link of our chain of greed. At the other end are the property developers, the greedy landlords, the business lobby, which ferociously oppose better wages, the profiteering supermarkets, and the fast-food chains, which make fat profits but pay the minimum wage.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. [email protected]