For months I have uttered nothing about what is going on here in Hong Kong, the city I proudly proclaim as home. This does not mean that I no longer care, but because I am overwhelmed by confusion and incredibility. Nowadays, getting to know the facts and truth on any case of public issues seems the mission impossible. Media reports and online accounts are often biased, distorted and even manipulating. Perhaps my obsession with fact-based, well-informed opinion is somewhat out-of-date and ridiculous by today's standard, but I still can't convince myself to do otherwise. What is the point of making your hands dirty in the chaos, disguised in the name of discussion, say something impulsive, biased or misinformed? If we are committed to solving rather than creating problems, how much can this help?
Indeed, the reality has become extremely puzzling and ridiculous. Just to name a few recent examples: Two government secretaries have stepped down without any evidence of failure or negligence of duty, and their departure took place on the same day as the announcement of their successors. By any standard, this is improper and reckless, indicating poor personnel planning and management, and showing no respect to the outgoing secretaries, the civil service and the general public. I concur that at the minimum, the government owes us an honest and truthful explanation of the unexpected departures. It also warrants a comprehensive review of personnel planning and management practices to ensure that something as impetuous and unprofessional as this would not happen again.
That a female protester was convicted by the court for breast-assaulting a police officer has made the news headlines around the world. What a fabulous way of promoting Hong Kong. Magistrate Michael Chan does have a point in his statement that without "a deterring sentence, the public might mistakenly think it is a trivial matter to assault police officers during protests". Indeed, assault is by all means a serious offence. But whether the physical clash in this case is strong enough to be considered an assault is a separate matter. Seeing female breasts as the assault “weapon” also goes beyond normal reasoning – if it ever exists. I wonder what evidence was presented at the court that brought about this jaw-dropping sentence. Rather than attacking the magistrate for his decision, I'd opt for examining his line of thought and reasoning process.
The controversy over the appointment of pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong is even more intriguing. According to news reports, the selection panel recommended Prof Johannes Chan as pro-vice-chancellor in charge of academic personnel and resources in June for the University Council's endorsement. But the Council decided in a meeting in late June that the appointment would be deferred until the deputy vice-chancellor is appointed. Quite expectedly, the deferral has caused an outcry of allegations and criticisms from the students, the alumni and the community at large. Although the Council has the authority to endorse, defer or reject any recommendation of selection panels or committees, its decisions are held accountable to the stakeholders of the University. A credible and reasonable explanation for any of its decision is not too much to ask for.
Water contamination by excessive lead allegedly caused by poorly connected pipes at various public housing estates around Hong Kong is perhaps the most outrageous and unimaginable of all. For generations we have taken so much pride in proclaiming Hong Kong as one of the safest haven on earth, and now this is proven to be little more than a self-serving fallacy.
Safety is not just about low crime rates. Safety is more about physical well-being and freedom from fear and threat. This is because water is a key constituent of all living things, humans are no exception. This also explains why all early civilisations sprouted from plains and valleys irrigated by rivers. If the water we drink and use every day is contaminated and harmful to health, our safety is at stake. The government has so far done the right thing by placing health as the top priority by arranging blood tests and healthcare follow-up to affected residents, young children and pregnant mothers in particular. But we must not forget eradicating the problem and holding the right party responsible for the damage to prevent any recurrence. Of course it is very costly, painstaking and time-consuming to conduct a complete survey of water pipes in Hong Kong and to replace the defective ones, this is still the right thing to do. I hope the government, the professional bodies and the general public would agree that this is a dear price we need to pay. After all, nothing should take precedence over human health and welfare.
These recent examples are more than enough to illustrate the pressing problems of Hong Kong. They do not emerge overnight, of course. All of them are results of chronic but neglected symptoms of social changes and eyebrow-raising ills, of which their roots can be traced back several years or more. The collapse of credibility and integrity systems of some corporations and government departments, for example, is the most conspicuous. Under normal circumstances – the high-sounding rhetoric I was taught and made to practise as much as I can – when the internal checks and whistle-blowing systems are effective, many of the problems that we are facing today could have been avoided, or contained in a more manageable scale.
Unfortunately, everything is history now. Our options are limited and fast draining. The priority is to identify the underlying problems, not the symptoms, and come up with effective solutions at different levels and timespan. In fact, Prof K Y Yuen was quite spot-on by saying that "somehow we failed to find a way out", in particular over the past three years, at the press conference announcing his resignation from the HKU Council on 31 July. This is one of the real problems we need to address urgently. We need to work out why this capability is being lost – or already lost – and how we can restore it. Some may ask: There are so many forces and factors at play and where should we start? I'd suggest: Let's begin with re-discovering our conscience, the insistence for integrity, reason and the willingness to reconcile.