Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Unbearable Blunder: Part 3

For more than a month, the key questions surrounding the appointments of undersecretaries and political assistants remained to be asked, let alone answered. Let me take the liberty to repeat here:

1. Why do we need a political appointment system in the first place? Why did Mr Tung Chee-hwa and Sir Donald Tsang think there is a need to change the governance structure based on administrative officers? In other words, why can't the old system prevail? What were the problems of the old system and what benefits will the new system bring to Hong Kong?

2. Specifically for the appointments of undersecretaries and political assistants, on what basis did the legislators approve the resources? Did they know what responsibilities incumbents of these new positions have? Worse still, was the approval part of the some sort of secret deals with the Government?

3. Now that some of the undersecretaries and political assistants have already reported to work, why is it still impossible for the Government give a detailed job description of these new talents? Why they have to discuss with their teams when they are on the job but not before? What is their role in the Government in view with the very cumbersome and highly divided structure of civil service? What is their relationship with the incumbent policy secretaries and permanent secretaries?

4. Why, my honourable legislators, do you make a big fuss on the side issues of nationality and salary packages instead of the governance system, which is by all means much more important? How can you possibly lose sight of the real issue? Does it mean that you have been trying to distract public attention away from some of your previous mistakes and misjudgements?

Sir Donald, if you are still not convinced that there is something wrong on your side, I do hope some of these questions will help you understand why there is. No one in Hong Kong wants to point their accusing fingers at you unless something has gone wrong, terribly wrong. Sir, and honourable legislators, please respond to my questions as legitimate as a taxpayer and a registered voter can possibly ask. Thank you.

Friday, 27 June 2008

The Unbearable Blunder: Part 2

What hits the headline today is simply amusing.

Anyone with common sense can now see how blinding and devastating arrogance can possibly be.

In an obvious attempt to nip the burning controversy of undersecretary and political assistant appointments, chief executive Sir Donald made an unprecedented appearance at the Legislative Council. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, he still failed to see what the essence of the problem is and therefore wasted yet another chance to score in the uphill battle that is doomed to lose.

What Sir Donald did yesterday, paradoxically against his will, was nothing more than adding fuel to some dying flames.

From a communication perspective, Sir Donald certainly did the right thing by standing up in front of the legislators. However, for someone like Sir Donald who is convinced that communications or, in his case spin, is everything but substance, communications may only backfire.

I can't stress more how important and entertaining the ongoing saga will be as a case study of communication blunders. For someone who is unwilling to listen, he/she shall never become a good communicator.

The key problem for Sir Donald, not only in this well-deserved blunder but on many other occasions, is that he seems to have such a big ego that prevents him from getting to his senses, if any at all. As the head of government, he fails to grasp what the Hong Kong people think and feel. In the appallingly handled undersecretary and political assistant appointments, nationality and salary package are not the real issues. Not even transparency or governance, as some commentators said. The real issues are far more complicated. The real issues are pointing right at the heart of Hong Kong's identity politics.

When Beijing pledged more than 20 years ago that Hong Kong would be ruled by Hong Kong people after the handover in 1997, nobody seemed to have doubts over who are Hong Kong people and who are not. At a time when uncertainty loomed, searching for alternatives for an ease of mind by emigration, naturalisation or obtaining permanent residence elsewhere made perfect sense. But the legacy of this confidence vacuum in the Chinese communist regime leaves many of us in an unbearably embarrassing situation when China is regaining its long-lost glory. Born opportunists seeking survival between gaps, many Hong Kong people are caught in the dilemma of tapping into China's robust growth and retaining a lucrative insurance package firmly in hand to prepare for any uncertainty. Maximising self-interests at all times from conflicting sides, though many are unwilling to admit, is something in our DNA.

This is exactly why the controversy of undersecretaries and political assistants flared up in the first place. Of course it would be impossible for Sir Donald or any political figure to resolve this, but reminding people of the historical background of why some of us are holding foreign passports doesn't help either. Notwithstanding the fact that the majority of Hong Kong never had a chance to seek foreign passports as they wished; as recent opinion poll results show, more Hong Kong people, especially the youth, are convinced that it is no longer a shame to claim to be Chinese. Naive or stupid it may seem, the possession of foreign passports now indicates a vote of mistrust not only in China but our identity as Chinese. Clinging on to one's foreign nationality and trying to convince people that it has nothing to do with the person's commitment to Hong Kong is doomed to fail. This is simply because identity is never an issue that can be addressed rationally. Who we are is something about what we think, what we feel and what we identify with. These thoughts and feelings are built on perceptions rather than objective and scientific data. This is why the rise of nationalism in China has rung the alarm for the United States and many other countries that are still sceptical about the Chinese communist regime, as there were plenty of examples in history of how nationalism had changed the political landscape of the world at different times. This is also why Sir Donald's rhetoric that keeps stressing on the lawfulness of the appointments fails to convince legislators and the public, being seen as evasive, irresponsible, arrogant and stupid.

Without doubt, Sir Donald and his protégés have made mistakes in the ongoing saga. The more defensive and adamant they become in their position, the greater the mistakes they will make in the next steps and the higher the political price they are doomed to pay. Apparently Sir Donald thinks otherwise. It's the people of Hong Kong who are stupid, failing to be convinced by facts and reason. It's the people of Hong Kong who are wrong for being unreasonably harsh to me. They are too emotional and untamed, reluctant to obey the authority.

I have never come across such an amusing political true-man show in my life. I just can't help keeping my fingers crossed and looking forward to the collapse of Sir Donald's reign.

Monday, 16 June 2008

A Psychological Protest

Six months have passed since I picked up tai-chi at the gym. As a fan of Laozi since teenage, I can't really tell how much I enjoy this traditional sport for the body and the mind and the level of interest only continues to build up. When sweat starts to soak my T-shirt halfway through and a stream of "qi" travels silently through my veins to the fingertips, I feel like the martial art masters in my favourite novels by Louis Cha completing another round of practice to make themselves even stronger.

Essentially, the teaching of Laozi is the art of humbleness. Nothing should be taken to the extreme, no matter what and who we are dealing with. Just be humble, take it easy and adapt to the environment, but not at the expense of your true self. These are the values that I have identified with and firmly adhered to since teenage. It is even more rewarding to be able to practise these values in a sport that is easy to do (though difficult to remember the sequence), enjoyable, interesting and excellent for health.

Perhaps these values of Laozi have also shaped me in such a way that I am often said to be lazy and inactive. My problem is that aggression never seems to fit my style. I hate others being aggressive to me and so I shall never do so to the others. Arrogance and contempt for the others are simply various forms of stupidity. But in a capitalist world where aggression and offensives, rather than respect and consideration, are appreciated, a low profile is twice as unforgivable as it should have been, if not even more.

What recently happened at work just prompted me into another soul-searching exercise, making me reflect on what needs to be changed and what not, and what will be the alternatives. I haven't really finished it yet, although I must admit that some sort of frustration or weariness has been haunting me for quite some time. I feel so confused and restless that I can't seem to think properly. The progress of my self-study has also been slow, and I just seem to have lost the motivation to keep going.

Hope this is just another short-lived psychological protest to the awfully wet and gloomy summer.

Monday, 9 June 2008

The Unbearable Blunder

Many commentators have already discussed the extraordinary blunder of the appointment of undersecretaries and political assistants, but none of them seem to have pointed their spears to the right direction. As a taxpayer, my question is very simple - Why on earth do we need those undersecretaries and political assistants? What are they going to do? How will their work be different from the current secretaries and permanent secretaries? What are their job descriptions?

I can't tell you how angry I am when I see none of the legislators and journalists and commentators ask this important question: Why do those guys justify millions of dollars in pay every year from taxpayers' pockets?

The so-called controversy on the nationality and salary of the undersecretaries and political assistants regrettably but not surprisingly misses the whole point. They are only the most visible of an underlying problem - the demise of the governance structure that was bequeathed from British colonial rule. I refrain from speculating the real cause of this unspoken reform, simply because I have no idea where the true roots are. All I can see is that the system has been undermined here and there by two consecutive administration leaders who have no idea what the civil service and Hong Kong going forward.

Reform is always welcome, especially for an obsolete system like Hong Kong's, only on the condition that it is for the better, not the worse.

The accountability system introduced in 2002 was the first blow to the British governance system dominated by a group of social elite called administrative officers, whose superego and political careers were badly struck. For decades, administrative officers have been said to be the smartest of all in Hong Kong, and so they believe. Now that they are put under the leadership of some so-called veteran professionals or businesspeople who have no experience of public administration, it remains a big question how the pension-fed administrative officers can work with the secretaries on contract terms. The problem is never difficult to visualise - for the appointed secretaries, time is limited and they would reasonably like to achieve something before their terms expire, but the civil servants who mostly work on permanent and pension terms are mostly unwilling to take risks that may have compound consequences on their careers.

The second devastating blow on the civil service is obviously the recent appointment of undersecretaries and political assistants. No one in the public seems to know their job descriptions, and perhaps equally so among their colleagues. The selection and appointment process was appallingly opaque. Nothing has been disclosed to the public except the running wild rumours and speculations in the local press. What bothers me most is that the administration has bypassed the proper procedures and tried to position these important appointments as nothing more than day-to-day routine that warrants no public scrutiny. I can't help checking the papers of the Legislative Council to see what was discussed before the honourable legislators approved the budget to pay the handsome salaries. Knowing how sophisticated our legislators are, it should not be surprising that a few promises for the pro-institution factions (I'm afraid I have to refrain from calling them "political parties" as they claim) would be more than enough to keep those guys quiet. The pro-democracy camp will always be excluded, simply because this is the only way to justify their position of opposition. If the democrats are ever bribed into the institution, it will be the end of Hong Kong politics. Our great leader is obliged to keep it alive and, more importantly, the people in the industry with their jobs secured.

Today Ming Pao Daily News published an editorial reminding Hong Kong's Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang of the importance of listening to his subjects, or he would risk the plummeting popularity of President Lee Myeong-bok of South Korea. Another leading writer and political commentator Nanfang Shuo from Taiwan also warned President Ma Ying-jeou of the risk of losing sight of the really important issues. While these commentaries are by all means well-intended and insightful, they are unfortunately built on assumptions that don't really fit Hong Kong. We are still far from being a democracy, and Sir Donald just doesn't seem to give a damn to his talkative subjects as long as he can please those who put him in his current position and enjoy the freedom to build his legacy.