Have you ever been on the receiving end of a scam? In a normal society, you would expect the victim to seek help and protection from the police. But what if the police and indeed the government are suspected to be part of the scam?

Recent incidents in Hong Kong have prompted me to believe the city is on the path to a trust crisis. Let me lay out my concerns from the seemingly non-political livelihood agenda to the highly politicised election and governance issues.

public housing lead hong kong

It is hard to imagine access to clean drinking water as a hard-fought right in a developed metropolitan city like Hong Kong. Yet, since reports of contamination of tap water in various public housing estates emerged in July, exceedingly high levels of lead in water samples taken from schools and even kindergartens have also been found. Despite confirmed cases of schoolchildren found to have dangerous lead levels in their blood, the government is taking a hands-off approach. Instead of taking decisive action to rectify the source of the contamination and alleviate legitimate concern from parents and teachers, the Secretary for Education has called for teachers “to teach the correct attitude on drinking water”. What is that supposed to mean?

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Photo: Pixabay.

In recent months, there have been reports of wide-spread phone scams in the city. A common theme from many of the cases was that they involved fraudsters claiming to be mainland police officers. The victims were told they were suspected of criminal offences in China and that they had to transfer money to a designated bank account to clear their record. In the last few days alone, three highly-educated professional businesspeople have fallen victim and handed over more than HK$20 million to the scammers. This is despite repeated scam alerts from the Hong Kong Police Force.

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Indeed, many Hongkongers have expressed suspicion of the anti-scam alert from the police, as the credibility of the police force has taken a hit in recent times. The case of police brutality aimed at pro-democracy protests during the Umbrella Movement last year and the subsequent unfair stance towards pro-government and pro-democracy crowds have perhaps symbolised the fact that the police force has become a political tool of the government.

stock photo hong kong police
File photo. Photo: HKFP.

This impression was reinforced by the police’s recent attempt to rewrite history.  On their website, the police have deleted and modified part of the “police history” of the 1967 Red Guard riots, citing the changes made to the police history page as “mainly to make its contents more concise and to correct sentences”. However, critics were quick to point out that the need to simplify the police force’s website was hardly a convincing reason. Rather, many believe this to be a deliberate move to appease the Chinese Communist Party and it paves the way for future moves to rewrite the parts of history that are inconvenient to the government.

Hongkongers are able to exercise some limited democratic control over the government by voting in district and legislative council elections. Past elections were fair and transparent, producing a high level of trust in the election process. However, recent reports of voter registration fraud have cast doubt on whether the coming elections will be conducted on a fair and open basis. There were “phantom voters” such as the one who was found to be registered in an address on the 27th floor of a residential building which only has 19 floors, a voter who registered a power distribution transformer station as the home address, and voters claiming they lived in hotel rooms. These stories led many to wonder whether there is a systematic cheating campaign organised by a pro-government party.

It would be fair to say that Hong Kong is on the path to a trust deficit crisis in light of these suspicious incidents. The government no longer commands a high level of trust from its people. What sort of society will Hong Kong become if the current trajectory of deceit is not arrested?

Dr. Chrisann Palm is a lecturer in accountancy at Queensland University of Technology. She grew up in Hong Kong in the 80s and moved to Australia in the mid 90s, first as a student and subsequently as a migrant after working in Hong Kong for a few years since completing her degree in 1998. Although she has called Australia home for nearly two decades, she held strongly her Hongkonger identity.
Chrisann started the Yellow Ribbon Campaign in Australia in September 2014 to pledge support for the Umbrella Movement. She is an organiser of the United for Democracy: Global Solidarity with Hong Kong, as well as one of the founding members of the 2047 Hong Kong Monitor group .