Hong Kong gets the crowds it wants from building the mega bridge. Oops

  • Alice Wu says officials’ failure to foresee the disruptive visitor influx from the newly opened Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge boggles the mind, but is hardly the only example of government incompetence. Think Typhoon Mangkhut travel chaos, for one
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 7:03am

If you build it, they will come. The mega Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge has been built and they, the people, have come. And, for some strange reason, our officials have reacted like deers caught in headlights.

Why else would the bridge be built, if not for the easier movement of people and goods? But yet, the government has completely failed to anticipate what the bridge could bring to Hong Kong – in terms of both the number of visitors and the number of problems. The problems involving insufficient numbers of “golden buses” – shuttle buses that take visitors between the three ports – and the long queues for clearing Hong Kong customs and immigration were shocking because they’re such “low-level problems”, and we have come to expect more from the government.

Typhoon Mangkhut revealed the government’s inability to accurately assess and effectively respond to problems, resulting in traffic and travel chaos in the aftermath of the storm. In the same way, the heated rows over the influx of visitors that descended on the residents of Tung Chung after the opening of the bridge revealed how inadequate the government was in foreseeing the impact, and then in coming up with mitigating measures.

It’s not rocket science, really, to expect fallen trees after a typhoon or an increased numbers of tourists swamping areas closest to the point of entry. But, yet, our government was caught by surprise.

Two weeks on, why does chaos follow China’s multibillion mega bridge?

It’s hard to believe officials went into this bridge project blind. It would seem they were only concerned with the time and cost of construction. The government was blind to what the bridge would mean for Hong Kong – beyond dressed-up figures showing economic benefits and fancy slogans about creating an economic hub – in terms of how it would affect the everyday life of ordinary Tung Chung residents: we are talking about noise levels, the length of queues for public transport and at neighbourhood restaurants, and other daily disruptions.

It’s not that the government doesn’t have the resources, either. It has data it can use as a reference and, given the delays to the project, it had plenty of time. The government just didn’t do its job; its errors are of the most elementary kind.

It would seem, then, that it’s not just the people who crunch numbers for the annual budget who have been wide of the mark. Hong Kong’s budget planners have been so wrong for so many years now that very few people take their consistently inaccurate estimates seriously.

The loss of public faith is damaging to the government. Worse than that, the failure to have a clear and accurate picture of the health of the public purse has been the excuse for its failure to channel sufficient resources into resolving long-standing issues. We are talking about public policies – not piecemeal bread and circuses – that address real needs in our society. This incompetence has apparently infected other government departments as well.

‘Gross mismanagement’ by four Hong Kong leaders led to current woes

Such maladministration has given anti-China activist groups an opportunity to latch onto the emotions of the Tung Chung residents and stage protests. If the government didn’t envision tourists swarming the Tung Chung community, then it would not have anticipated the protests. Despite what Hong Kong went through during the Sheung Shui unrest, in which self-proclaimed “activists” made use of the resentment of the local community over the problem of parallel trading to raise hell, the government still did not foresee the problem.

It’s not national education Hong Kong needs. Nor is it a stronger sense of national identity. What we really need is a government that can handle basic public administration – forecasting, impact assessment and coordination.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA