Hong Kong falls behind in equality, poverty reduction and environmental protection – but leads in arrogance

Peter Kammerer says the hubris of Hongkongers, witnessed online and in government, has left the city unable to respond appropriately to its mounting problems or to claim the title of ‘international city’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 August, 2018, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2018, 7:16pm

Too many Hongkongers are unjustly filled with pride and arrogance about their city. Yes, it was perhaps the best place to be in Asia a decade or so ago, but the shine has tarnished. Where once there was innovation, creativity and adaptability, there is now a lack of economic and social progress that has us, at best, treading water and, at worst, falling behind. It’s shameful and nothing to be proud or uppity about.

The mentality can clearly be seen in the comments section of the Post’s website, and on websites elsewhere; they are people who believe they are so much more intelligent and learned than mainlanders, Singaporeans, Americans – you name it. You’ll sense it when talking to some people from our top companies and schools. They look down on people elsewhere in China, know Japan and South Korea better than their own nation and fail to see the serious problems around them in the very city they live in.

Our government is by far the biggest culprit. The top civil servants are out of touch with ordinary people, despite being among the highest paid workers in Hong Kong, receiving the best perks and benefits and coming from the finest educational institutions.

Having little or no contact with the grit and grime of the city, whether a wet market or public transport, they have limited understanding of the problems that exist. They are handsomely rewarded for serving the people of Hong Kong, yet our city is falling behind the rest of the developed world on their watch.

There’s a local saying that sums it up beautifully: the more you do, the more mistakes you’ll make; the less you do, the fewer the mistakes; if you don’t do anything at all, there won’t be any mistakes. I’ve a suspicion that this is imprinted in the genetic make-up of the majority of those in our government.

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Since the handover, Hong Kong has gained a housing crisis, with unaffordable flats that are increasingly cramped. The population is ageing fast and mandatory pensions are insufficient to cover needs, there’s a severe shortage of nursing homes and the health care system remains flawed, with people who can easily afford private care clogging up public clinics. Almost one in five people lives below the poverty line, a shockingly high level for so affluent a city. Standard working hours should be a given for all, but are instead allowed to slide in the face of opposition from the greedy business community. Year by year, quality of life for the majority barely changes, and often slips.

The irony is that the government has the resources and skills to find solutions for all these matters and could do it in double-quick time if it wanted. Witness how fast it moves when Beijing gives the order, as with promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Greater Bay Area and, it is widely believed, construction of the high-speed rail link.

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Meanwhile, international trends are resisted or ignored. Uber and Airbnb are treated as illegal, despite their popularity elsewhere. Equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgenders continue to be barred, with top officials putting religious beliefs ahead of impartiality and common sense.

Legalised marijuana, like in an ever-growing number of jurisdictions? Not a chance. Efforts at recycling remain dismal, roadside air pollution continues to threaten our health and the global trend of riding a bike to work is dangerous on our vehicle-choked streets. And officials still have the audacity to call Hong Kong an “international city”.

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Fortunately, there are also many Hongkongers who genuinely love their city. They care for the environment and want to help those in need. Although not being the highest paid, they try to do what they can, working around the obstacles in their way to improve their city despite the frustrations.

Until top officials and others who are influential in the community wake up to what’s happening, hopes for development have to lie with these quiet achievers.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post