by John Batten
As much as I wish it, not much will change after the Chief Executive election. The clearest indicator that it will be business as usual is seeing who are the new appointees to Hong Kong’s most coveted networking opportunities: sitting on government advisory boards and committees. The immediate appointments will be ‘non-official’ members sitting alongside government ministers on the Executive Council. If these advisory committee appointments carry the same old names, from the same old business or sector alignments, the same businessmen or their children, then there is little hope for any change in government policies, direction and communication. The prevailing ‘them’ and ‘us’ continues and much future official decision-making will undoubtably be at odds with the public’s own ideas and expectations.
We can only live in hope. Or, we can believe in small miracles. These sort of clichés have a touch of religion: destiny is in the ‘hands’ of a higher force. It is also the thoughts a gambler mumbles just before the dice rolls or the horses approach the final straight. Hong Kong’s prevailing negativity should not be a self-fulfilling prophecy, so, like the gambler my expectations of the next Chief Executive and government have some modest hopes. These include:
I want the next government to not label everyone who opposes government policy as ‘the opposition’ and that sensible questions are not dismissed as being behind ‘a smear.’ Talk to the opposition, talk together. And, I would like members in the Legislative Council who are not ‘pro-government’ to continue to question, push and cajole obvious bad government policies and to be an Opposition, to be and act as an alternative government.
I want the next government to take down the flags that now fly above all government offices, government facilities such as hospitals and fire stations and – significantly – police stations. These flags, of imposed regulation size and erected three years ago, don’t represent the city’s unique ‘one country, two systems’ way of governance we can all be proud of, but represent an imposed nationalism by the Leung Chun–ying government and cronies. A feature of Leung’s government is its chipping away at established institutions – think police, the judiciary, schools – to push a nationalist agenda on previously, and fiercely proud, independent institutions. It is time to reverse this.
I want the next government to remove the ‘public weigh station’ at the Hung Hom bus stop that blocks one lane for cross-harbour buses approaching Hong Kong Island, causing unnecessary traffic congestion. It seems no transport official will make this simple decision. It is a daily reminder for commuters of continuing government intransigence to make daily lives better. The lack of public seating along public footpaths and at bus stops is another glaring example.
I want the next government to look at how we can make the final living days of elderly patients that crowd general medical wards at public hospitals better. Can’t we fund hospice-style wards attached to public hospitals, to offer palliative care and give families and friends needed privacy in the final days or weeks of life?
I want the next government to stop the housing mantra that has been a feature of the present government. Hong Kong does not lack land for housing, it is how our land is used. More land is actually devoted to roads than residential property. Let’s be innovative: some residential projects could incorporate roads within its underground foundations, leaving ground level space for people and freeing up land previously devoted to cars. Or, be even more radical – tackle the New Territories small house policy or resume property developers’ rural land banks using similar resumption laws as used in urban areas by the Urban Renewal Authority. And surely housing should be affordable: the current high land cost policy (e.g. recent acceptance by government for Kai Tak land tenders), and historically low interest rates, have kept housing expensive.
I want the next government to have people-centred policies, to make lives better and more livable.
And finally, I want the next government and the Chief Executive to have a sense of humour. I want to hear some really bad jokes, smart quips, witty anecdotes and to see the Chief Executive laugh and laugh with us more. We can then all enjoy the next five years a little easier and a little happier.
John Batten is an art critic, and convenor of the Central & Western Concern Group