Hong Kong did not have a plan for the morning after Typhoon Mangkhut. Blame the government

Albert Cheng says government officials have again proved that they live in an ivory tower. Carrie Lam’s administration failed to consider what the Monday morning after the super typhoon would be like for the thousands of Hongkongers facing long commutes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 12:44pm

Super Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into Hong Kong on Sunday, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been under fire for the administration’s post-storm and transport arrangements. Since the chief executive assumed office, she has been yearning for the general public’s recognition of her governance; however, the good work done before the storm turned into chaos.

It is solid proof that the government lives in an ivory tower and is incapable of addressing Hong Kong people’s pressing needs. This has sparked great public outrage and people are losing their trust in the government further.

In the aftermath, Lam failed to alleviate people’s difficulties. If the government wants to turn the tide of public opinion, it should address the cause of the problem.

It was anticipated that Mangkhut could be as strong as Wanda, the notorious super typhoon that is one of the most intense on record in Hong Kong. The administration solemnly warned the public when Mangkhut was approaching the city, urging them to take precautions. The Home Affairs Department readied itself to help evacuate residents from high-risk areas.

As soon as Mangkhut landed, frontline staff spared no effort day and night in dealing with the catastrophe. Serious casualties were avoided and, for this, the government’s hard work was commendable.

Watch: Typhoon Mangkhut rips through Hong Kong

Across the city, more than a thousand trees collapsed, leaving more than 600 sections of our roads blocked and train services suspended. The government should have anticipated such post-typhoon chaos, but instead, it refused to take the necessary step of declaring a day off. Although the Education Bureau announced that all schools would close, Lam was still bombarded with angry comments on traffic disruptions.

Due to the government’s insensitivity and inflexibility, as work resumed on Monday, train stations were packed with commuters and bus stops were overwhelmed with endless queues. As the complaints emerged, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who sits on the Executive Council, said that the situation did not qualify as an emergency and that the city’s status as an international financial centre could not be compromised.

Post-storm guidelines for Hong Kong’s civil servants to be examined

On Tuesday, Lam said she was deeply concerned about the Hong Kong people’s frustration and anger, and it was understandable for them to vent their anger on the chief executive. She added that it would have been irresponsible to declare a day off without a legal basis.

However, desperate times call for desperate measures. Even though the Emergency Regulations Ordinance does not apply to the aftermath of the typhoon, the government should have handled the situation more tactfully.

The administration failed to mobilise policemen, auxiliary police officers and firefighters, as well as the Civil Aid Service and Auxiliary Medical Service to assist in the relief efforts. The People’s Liberation Army was not involved in the clean-up; Lam has clearly missed a golden opportunity to enhance the image of the national army.

Watch: Typhoon Mangkhut brings transport chaos to Hong Kong

Time off work in the wake of typhoons has to be considered

Hongkongers suffer from a lack of democracy and under developers’ hegemony. Many cannot afford homes in the central areas, and have to live in districts which necessitate three-hour commutes every day. This week, the aftermath of the superstorm compounded their misery.

The transport chaos underlined the lack of protection for workers in an emergency. The administration should push for more comprehensive labour legislation, which could fully safeguard the rights and needs of Hongkongers should the same situation arise again.

Apart from transport arrangements, insurance is another piece of the puzzle. Employees of small companies are often required to go to work on their own. Even if the employers or employees are willing to pay extra for a taxi or other private transport, the drivers will probably refuse to take passengers due to the lack of extreme-weather insurance.

In a Hong Kong where people’s political rights are diminishing, the government should at least work harder at the betterment of labour rights and welfare. This is the first step for Lam’s government to win over people’s hearts and minds.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]