Stereotyped perceptions hurting the government

Updated: 2013-12-19 08:15

By Raymond So (HK Edition)

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This is a common belief that the government has very little public support. When we read newspapers, we notice staunch critics of various government policies. This is common in today's political environment. The opposition groups always attack the government. This is not a great concern as the opposition needs to voice its discontent to consolidate its political support. Under an electoral system, such a phenomenon is considered normal. The key thing is that if the government does implement good policies, even though the opposition is hostile, it will receive strong public support.

But the problem now is that the government does not receive any strong support from the public. The general trend is to oppose the government, and worst still, this becomes the predominant view in society. One important consequence is that weak public support can lead to a serious lack of talented people in government. The government needs to have capable people to devise and implement its policies. The original idea of having the bureau secretaries was to source from outside talent to fill political positions. This would allow civil servants to remain politically neutral so that they could implement policies in a professional manner. But when public support is so weak, the government finds it more difficult to attract the right people.

Of course, the government can consider promoting capable civil servants to fill these places. But many are not interested in political appointments. Worst still, many also believe the civil service is no longer a pleasant place to work in. Whenever opportunities outside arise, there is a brain drain. I receive many farewell messages from high-ranking civil servants, and note their appointments elsewhere.

Stereotyped perceptions hurting the government

This is a major concern because the government faces a severe manpower problem. Externally, the government cannot attract talented people; internally, there is a brain drain. The lack of talent affects the implementation of policies. So it is no surprise the government receives such strong criticism.

Another dilemma is that weak public support can lead to no support. Even though the government is right about certain policies, it is not easy to find public support for them. This is not due to poor policies; it is mainly because of divisions in society. If someone supports the government on certain policies, he or she is labeled "pro-government" and this is a negative term. Reading discussion forums on the internet, you notice many critics of the government. When there is one supporter, he or she will be attacked. Though comments in cyber space may not accurately reflect the current situation, they do give some indication of the problem.

Another sad thing is that the local media also focuses on the negative sides of every public policy. For each public policy, by definition, there are both good and bad aspects. When the emphasis is on the negative, the positive side is neglected.

Society then becomes obsessed with the negative view. This further increases the poor perception of the government, which in turn, makes implementation of future policies even more difficult.

Many people today do not dare support the government publicly. Even if someone does not express any negative feelings toward the government, they are considered to be supporters. When the political climate is like this, it is not surprising to find the government fighting uphill battles, alone. The outlook is not optimistic. There are many controversial policies in the pipeline. With the 2015 District Councils and 2016 Legislative Council elections coming soon, next year will be more difficult.

The author is dean of the School of Business at Hang Seng Management College.

(HK Edition 12/19/2013 page1)