One can sometimes have a soupcon of sympathy for Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Our Chief Executive is forever being harassed by higher powers, or their ‘liaison’ channel, to echo sentiments or enact laws with which she may not feel entirely comfortable.

Then suddenly, at about 5pm last Sunday – I postulate – an executive decision fell into her lap about which no political authority would have ideological cause to interfere with.

super typhoon mangkhut aftermath
Photo: Joy Zhu.

Hong Kong was being battered by a typhoon of destructive power I haven’t seen since 1979’s Typhoon Hope. The 10 was up. Social media was being inundated by videos of destruction as were coastal areas by tidal surge. The biggest gusts often sounded like a freight train approaching, and, on arrival, uprooted trees as if toothpicks.

Carrie Lam’s decision – let us imagine – was binary. She could either take a call from Ronnie Tong Ka-wah or make a call to her Commissioner of Police.

The latter option, first. The Chief Executive orders one of those police vans with typhoon (or riot) protection to be outside her door in 30 minutes. Grabbing her hard hat and hi-viz jacket – on the hat stand by her door as so often obligatory for any senior official on a ceremonial opening of infrastructure of dubious benefit – and said to the driver take me to Shatin, or Sai Kung, if you can. Or Shek-O. The light remained, the wind was (slightly) abating.

Tai Wai station
Tai Wai station. Photo: Handout.

Had she done this, Carrie would have seen the twisted metal, fallen tree and road blocking sheer mess that the typhoon had wrought. Had she emerged from the police van in any coastal area she would have witnessed the domestic distress of water lapping up against sofa. Not a photo-op, but a simple phone call could have followed, generating a press release.

All commercial businesses will be closed tomorrow (Monday). As if a Signal 8 were up, no employee should feel obligated, or expected, to go to work. Schools are closed. Stay at home. Play your part in Clean-Up Day.

Carrie Lam super typhoon mangkhut aftermath
Carrie Lam attended the 2018 Asian Actuarial Conference on Monday. Photo: GovHK.

As I appreciate, in its brevity and clarity, this reads nothing like a government press release, I ask you to imagine some junior bright spark adding a cartoon of a mum and dad, offspring and granny, carrying twigs and smiling.

Yet banish this happy picture from your mind. Let us return to the first option:

Carrie takes the call from Ronnie. So, let’s hear from Ronnie:

Speaking on an RTHK radio programme, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who sits on Lam’s cabinet, the Executive Council, said it was impractical to expect the government to give people the day off work. “In a capitalist society, the government has no power to meddle with all the contracts between employers and employees,” he said.

Let me just say this is absolute nonsense. If Ronnie wants to call me, I’ll give many reasons, and precedents, why.

And I ask ‘why?’. Why were so many people struggling to get to work yesterday, amid transport disruption and angst about obligation? This was a clear chance for our Chief Executive to make an executive decision and she ducked it.

The windows of Ivory Towers are duct-taped by timidity.

David Price arrived in Hong Kong in 1978. He wrote weekly columns for the SCMP, its Sunday Magazine and the ‘Village Life’ column for the Hong Kong Independent. He is now a movie screenwriter, although agents and producers, at every turn, would deny this. He was also once an actor, as a search for David Does Dallas would confirm.