My Take

How to restore trust and influence lawmakers

By empowering the Legislative Council’s research office to carry out unbiased studies on policy initiatives and proposed laws, Carrie Lam can achieve more than by simply cosying up to legislators, whatever their political hue

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 1:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 1:28am

Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has promised to improve the relationship between the administrative and legislative branches. That’s all very well. But it’s not enough to restore cooperation or civility, hard enough as it is.

When you have two ugly ducklings, getting the two to tango doesn’t make them any more appealing. Far more important is to try to enhance their competence and earn back people’s trust. But how? Frankly, I have no idea. But I would make a small suggestion.

Like many Hong Kong people, I don’t trust the government any more than the pan-democratic-localist opposition. But then, where do you turn for hard facts and empirical analyses when there is an urgent social issue or a policy matter to fret about, say a universal pension scheme? Do you trust the government’s numbers or the soundbites of the opposition? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a professional and non-partisan research office that could produce such analyses for the people?

There is already one: Legco’s research office. Unfortunately, it is under-resourced and understaffed. But despite its current limitations, it has produced highly enlightening and reader-friendly reports that showed, for example, how much budgetary giveaways by former finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah ended up going to people with high incomes or those who didn’t need them. I have been quoting its latest analysis of 20 years of government budgets in my last two columns.

How Carrie Lam can put the destiny of Hong Kong in safe hands

If Lam wants to restore credibility to Legco, give its research office the resources and manpower it needs to do its job properly. If the government has the secretive and unaccountable Central Policy Unit, the people deserve their own policy research facility to produce independent analyses of budgetary, economic and social issues.

It may be modelled on the US Congressional Budget Office. Its economists and analysts produce non-partisan reports and cost estimates for proposed legislation and their alternatives. All its reports aim to be objective and impartial. Analysts are hired without regard to their political leanings, but solely on professional competence and expertise.

If, as Tsang has claimed, Hong Kong can’t overspend on entitlement programmes because we may face a structural deficit in five years, we ought to know the method and assumptions behind his projections.

People don’t need any more political spinning, but cold hard analyses that they can easily digest and understand – and then decide for themselves.