Let's build a better Hong Kong

Updated: 2016-02-02 08:56

By Ho Lok-Sang(HK Edition)

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Ho Lok-sang writes that he hopes in the New Year people can come to their senses and realize we all need to put aside our personal differences and work together

It has been a very disappointing year for both Hong Kong and the world, not so much because our economy is lackluster or the world is still struggling to achieve economic growth, but because both Hong Kong and the world seem to have been caught up in an everlasting struggle among those with diverse interests or opinions. Meaningful dialogue seems impossible and the lack of trust shows up every day. My first wish in the New Year is that people come to their senses and realize we sorely need to put aside our personal grudges and start looking for ways to build a better Hong Kong and a better world.

True, there have been times in history when a revolution was considered necessary. The French Revolution was no accident. The revolution to overthrow the Qing Dynasty was no accident. Before the French Revolution, according to Wikipedia, "the widespread French nobility had become immensely unpopular. This was a consequence of the fact that peasants and, to a lesser extent, the poor and those aspiring to be bourgeoisie, were burdened with ruinously high taxes levied to support a wealthy monarchy, along with aristocrats and their sumptuous, often gluttonous lifestyles."

The Qing Dynasty was extremely inept and corrupt and lost multiple wars with Britain, Japan and other nations. It was also burdened with a heavy indemnity and suffered territorial losses. In contrast to those times, our governments - that of Hong Kong and the central government - have been working hard with much success in improving people's lives. Even though there remains much room for improvement, portraying the SAR government or the central government as exploitative or dictatorial is unfair. If we want our governments to perform better, we need to do our homework, contribute ideas, and engage in policy discussions with humility and an open mind.

A frequent complaint I hear from young people is: "Try as we might, the government just will not listen. If the government does not listen, we are out of options, and have to protest harder and even use force." The University of Hong Kong (HKU) students who tried to storm into HKU Council meetings say the same thing. They demanded that the Chief Executive should not appoint Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as HKU Council chairman, and then that the CE should not automatically serve as university chancellor. But Leung Chun-ying did not oblige, even though supporters of these actions have assembled tens of thousands of signatures.

Clearly, from these complaints we can conclude that "listening" to these protesters means letting them do exactly what they want. To them, "listening" is not listening with the possibility of disagreeing. My question to them is: "Why must others agree to your demands? Is this not dictating your wishes upon others?" Getting a large number of supporters to sign does not necessarily mean what is being demanded is the best for the university or for Hong Kong. Even if what is demanded is the best thing to do, forcing the issue will do more harm than good in the long run. Different people can truly believe they are right while pressing for different policies. If all of them try to force the issue because we think we are right we will never have peace. If collective decisions are based on who can more effectively mobilize people to force the issue, the result will be mob rule. This will not be in Hong Kong's best interests.

My advice to our young people is that instead of trying to mobilize people to force an issue, they should try to use different platforms to explain their position. I have been frustrated for years by the government not following my advice on road pricing, on a wage subsidy to help alleviate the working poor problem, on relinking the Hong Kong dollar to a currency basket, on introducing a housing price index futures market, on bank deposit insurance, on a healthcare reform package based on raising fees and capping annual healthcare expenditure for households, on introducing a minimum wage, on removing the Special Stamp Duty (since it was introduced), and on a cohort-based pension system. By now some of these recommendations, like the bank deposit insurance and the wage subsidy, have become a reality. But most of what I advocated apparently fell on deaf ears. Still I have retained my composure. I understand it is useless trying to force the issue. I choose to be patient and bring up the ideas again and again, to re-examine them, and to seize every opportunity to explain them to other people and to the government.

Our government certainly is not above making mistakes. If it makes a bad decision, criticizing it is appropriate. But turning our frustration into anger and seeing the government as an enemy does not help matters. Our world is suffering because too many people think they are right and others are wrong and seek to force the issue with every means they can muster.

May the New Year bring peace and reason back to Hong Kong and the world.

(HK Edition 02/02/2016 page9)