SCMP Monday, June 26, 2000

Tung must hear people

MARTIN LEE


In a few days, Hong Kong will enter its fourth year as a Special Administrative Region under Chinese sovereignty. We won't be seeing as much festivity as in the past two years, when prominent leaders descended from Beijing for the anniversary. There will be no shortage of drama, nonetheless.

In the run-up to the handover anniversary, the people of Hong Kong have seen a few demonstrations. Public doctors are organising themselves against a new two-tier grade structure. Even the formerly protest-shy Liberal Party is mobilising homeowners, who suffered from the slip in the property market. On June 10, more than 6,000 teachers publicly showed their opposition over the language benchmarking proposal. About three months ago, 2,500 social workers rallied against the Government's new funding scheme.

A year ago, 632 barristers and solicitors marched silently in dark suits, protesting the Government's decision to seek a re-interpretation of two articles of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, which essentially overturned the Court of Final Appeal's judgment in the right of abode case.

Barristers, solicitors, social workers, teachers, public doctors, homeowners - these are not our typical street protesters. One must ask why these people have resorted to demonstrations. The answer has to be this - something is wrong with our Government.


Not everyone agrees. Listen to some of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's closest advisers in the Executive Council. Leung Chun-ying reportedly said that the fact that people were venting anger against particular policies in the streets did not mean that the Government's reputation was suffering. Chung Shui-ming argued that it was the financial turmoil that was pushing the people to protest. Tam Yiu-chung, the only Exco member who also sits in the Legislative Council, said most of the issues under protest were left over from before the handover.

If this is the advice our Chief Executive heeds to understand the mood of our society, it is no surprise that his popularity has plummeted to the point where less than one-fifth of Hong Kong people want him for a second term.

So what's wrong with the Government? Some columnists have said that Mr Tung's administration has an addiction to meddling with the property market. Judging from its track record, I would say Mr Tung's administration has an addiction to meddling, period.

Over the past three years, his Government has put forward more reform initiatives than in any other period since 1985, when I became a legislator. Unfortunately these initiatives have often not been thought through. Under normal circumstances, this can be salvaged by adequate consultations with stakeholders, so that arguments from various interest groups can be heard.

But the Government, sadly, seems to have no patience for this process. For instance, upon Mr Tung's return from a visit to Singapore, he decided that Hong Kong's students needed to get a head start for the IT revolution with more computers. So schools got more computers. But the haste with which the plan was implemented prevented schools from properly preparing for their use. Some schools locked the computers away simply because the teachers themselves, as beginner users, were not prepared for the IT revolution.

The promotion of mother-tongue education is another example of a well-intentioned goal gone awry. Rather than working out a full package with educators which addressed parents' concerns that the policy would diminish their children's exposure to English, the Government went ahead with the proposal to make Cantonese the medium of instruction, but at the same time made an exception for about 100 schools. The proposal became one which discredited mother-tongue education, as most students scrambled for limited spaces in the government-endorsed elite schools that were allowed to use English as a medium of instruction.

In his last policy address, Mr Tung made the environment and education his priorities. His educational reforms have already demoralised many teachers. His administration pays lip-service to protecting and preserving the environment on one hand, but gives the green light to the Kowloon and Canton Railway Corporation to build the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau line on the other.

It is ironic that the people of Hong Kong are now reuniting in their disapproval of Mr Tung's administration when only one year ago, his Government was successful in dividing the people with the right of abode case. United we stand, and we demand that Mr Tung starts listening to the people, not his cronies.

Martin Lee Chu-ming is a democratically elected legislator and chairman of the Democrats.