Flying Sand

Slimmed-down policy address, but how about slimmed-down government? Here are two places to start

Niall Fraser says the Consumer Council and Obscene Articles Tribunal are both well past their sell-by dates and have proven woeful value for taxpayers’ money

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 4:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 9:36pm

On Wednesday the first woman chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, will deliver her maiden policy address to members of the Legislative Council.

Or, in other non-words, at Legco the CE of the HKSAR of the PRC will outline to political representatives of the DAB, FTU, BPA, FLU, NPP, DP, NWSC, PTU and others what she plans to achieve in her job.

In a welcome move, Lam is expected to speak for no more than an hour. Let us hope this act of compassion is the first of many.

Her speech is purported to be framed around the theme of “hope and happiness”, which sounds just vacuous enough to accommodate the troublesome elephant of political division and strife in the room.

That aside, and in the spirit of a slimmed-down delivery, I have a couple more – only half-joking – suggestions to help lubricate the wheels of public administration.

As hinted at earlier, we are a city drowning in acronyms and initialisms. And that notwithstanding that Hong Kong is as complicated a linguistic community as you can get, and so often needs to resort to these in the interests of rainforest preservation.

From the EOC to the AFCD and EMSD to the CSD, our public discourse resembles an alphabet soup which clogs up clarity while weaponising the building blocks of the English language in a war on comprehension.

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A good place to start slimming things down would be with the OAT, otherwise known as the Obscene Articles Tribunal.

The real obscenity is that it still exists, and given how little we hear of it these days, why we still pay for it.

This quasi-official waste of space and time, which was a bad idea when it was set up to adjudicate on uptight and prudish complaints of obscenity many moons ago, has surely passed its sell-by date in the digital age.

Believe it or not, the OAT once ruled that a replica of Michelangelo’s sculpture David be removed from public view because its historic appendage was on show. It later backed down by offering a compromise in which a well-placed fig leaf ensured David stayed put.

The OAT followed this act of cultural vandalism by sanctioning a newspaper for publishing a photograph of a little boy who had been badly disfigured in an accident, next to a story asking readers to contribute to a fund to pay for treatment.

It took a public outcry before the arbiters of obscenity backed down.

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Then there is the Consumer Council, which throughout its 43-year existence has admirably avoided using an acronym, and appears genuine in its desire to expose marketplace malpractice.

Yet sadly, tangible improvements in core areas of concern flagged by the council year after year – like the tiny, overpriced flats in which Hongkongers live, price-rigging in the supermarkets where they buy their oversalted food and the back-breaking schoolbags their children (or domestic helpers) have to lug to around – are nowhere to be seen.

Indeed, just this month, as a Post leader article pointed out, a survey of 900 pupils by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong found that the average weight of a child’s school bag was 4.9kg, 63 per cent heavier than recommended and the highest figure in a decade.

A clue to why these core consumer concerns persist can be found in an April 2017 Audit Commission report. That report said most calls to the council “were answered by a voicemail system,” and that “documentary evidence was not available to support” the council’s own calculations for how quickly it responded to inquiries.

Hardly a badge of honour for an organisation whose overwhelming source of funds – 95 per cent – is the hard-earned tax dollars of the very consumers it is supposed to listen to and protect.

We should welcome the chief’s move to shorten her policy address. And we should hope that in doing so she will realise that the removal of more niggling little sores which infect the awkward beast under her charge might just make it easier to handle.