Wednesday, 13 January 2016

A Tale of Two Leaders

Leung Chun-ying's speech was read out like a laundry list for two hours...
This morning our time, the President of the United States, Barack Obama gave his last State of the Union address. While he noted the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans is more divisive than ever, he also praised the country for its diversity, and how the rest of the world looks to America for leadership.

He also talked about the country's future: how to ensure equal opportunities for everyone, how to harness technological change, how to keep the country safe, and how to bridge the political divide.

...while Barack Obama talked big ideas in his speech
This is Obama's vision for the country in his last year in office, and the way he spoke instilled pride and inspiration in the audience.

Contrast this to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address this morning, his last one before the election next year.

He spoke at the Legislative Council for two hours -- even taking a 10-minute break in between --  to read out a laundry list of initiatives his administration has done or will do, from free kindergarten for some families (details to be ironed out), give HK$2 billion to startups, double the number of wifi hotspots to 34,000 in three years, make the city more accessible for the elderly, and free admission to permanent exhibitions in museums.

Whoohoo.

More interesting were the four times Leung was interrupted by lawmakers who complained the chief executive was not fulfilling election promises, how the government would destroy the environment when developing Lantau, and demanding to know where missing bookseller Lee Bo and his four associates are.

Leung's speech hardly contained any vision. While he is concerned about the growing aging population, with nearly one-third of the population will be seniors within 20 years, Leung only proposes making public areas more accessible and extra hospital beds for them.

Lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan demands to know where Lee Bo is
Why not look far into the future and propose more preventive health measures, like encouraging seniors to exercise more, give them more money so they can eat better, and build more assisted living facilities.

And for kindergartens, it is only free for those who attend half day, and even then, the scheme looks to be more complicated with various conditions. As a result some families will be shut out. If 70 to 80 percent of kindergartens are supposed to be free under this scheme, why not just make all of them free of charge?

While throwing HK$2 billion to startups is generous, will that actually lead to something Hong Kong will be famous for globally? What startups have been successful here so far? Seems like a long shot bet that may not result in much except for an easy grab for startups desperate for funds. Is this the most effective way to spend our taxpayer dollars?

Perhaps the only bold initiative on Leung's part is banning the ivory trade "as quickly as possible" he said in the press conference afterwards. Again details need to be worked out, but at least the government is taking a strong stand on this issue.

Other than that, as Leung's critics have pointed out -- including Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee -- the speech only talked about piecemeal items that don't show any sign of looking at Hong Kong's long term future. There are no big ideas, only small initiatives to try to win quick points.

We don't want a government that only picks the low-hanging fruit. We want a vision of the city's future. And today was far from inspiring...


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