Governments around the world are stirring themselves to prepare for a new era once the Covid-19 pandemic has been brought under control. Not so in Hong Kong, where what passes for a government is preoccupied with measures to stamp out freedom of expression, eliminate the political opposition and purge critical thinking from the education system.

Almost unbelievably, it is also still fixated by vastly expensive white elephant schemes that will empty the public coffers.

lantau reclamation protest
A child stands next to a sign that says, “Say no to white elephant infrastructure projects.” File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Even now, when the virus is far from under control, the government’s priorities include punishing hospital staff who dared question its idiotic refusal to close the mainland border during the crucial initial stage of the outbreak. And, to hammer home its determination never to learn from past mistakes, it is again focused on how to open up the border.

Instead of looking for ways of reviving the economy the Lam administration seems unaware of the devastation it is wreaking while clinging to social distancing controls that provide a pretext for curbing the right of assembly.

Instead of working out a coherent strategy for helping hard-hit businesses and their employees, the government offers a series of piecemeal measures which are showy but have limited impact. The stark fact is that literally thousands of businesses are faced with collapse, unemployment will rise sharply and very real economic hardship will ensue.

Instead of anything resembling a plan to address these immediate concerns, the government, with its newly installed rubber stamp legislature, is busy bringing forward infrastructure plans with  mouth-watering price tags, such as the Lantau reclamation scheme. Even more amazingly, despite widespread predictions of a prolonged downturn in air traffic, the administration doggedly persists in expanding the airport’s capacity.

Lantau Tomorrow Greenpeace
Representatives of Greenpeace submits a petition signed by over 100,000 people in opposition to the government’s Lantau Tomorrow Vision project. File Photo: Greenpeace.

As money is frittered away on projects which at the least could be put on hold, the government pleads poverty as an excuse for not facing the community’s immediate needs.

Perhaps even more damaging however is the sullen refusal to work to prevent pandemics breaking out in future and the failure to make proper contingency plans for another virus outbreak should prevention not work.

What was vividly clear during the SARS outbreak, almost two decades ago, was that contingency plans needed to be put in place. There was even an official inquiry which recommended this. However Lam and her muppet colleagues decided they had better things to do.

What was also learned from the SARS outbreak was that poor hygiene conditions in the housing stock, particularly at the lower end of the spectrum, were a breeding ground for fast- spreading infection. This is of no interest to the grand people who surround the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO) who far prefer dishing out sackloads of public funds on their heritage projects rather than literally getting involved with plumbing and sewage issues.

carrie lam
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference on the city’s COVID-19 novel coronavirus situation at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on May 5, 2020. File photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP.

But what is more pressing? How much more evidence is needed to persuade these idiots that mundane plumbing issues are a timebomb problem?

And where are the new resources for primary health care, especially in overwhelmed public clinics which do a remarkable job despite indifference from above?

Meanwhile, what of the future? What do the ‘visionaries’ sitting in their lavish offices in Tamar have to say about, for example, the future of work where many people may well find themselves working at home? What do they have to say about improving conditions for the less well off, particularly children who need to access the digital world, not with a battered handphone but with proper computers allowing them to get on with their studies?

Could Hong Kong play a role in developing these technologies? Who knows? All the CENO cares about is pleasing her bosses by saying “Greater Bay Area” as often as possible.

Xie Feng Lin Nianxiu Fernando Chui Sai-on Carrie Lam, Tung Chee-hwa, Ma Xingrui Wang Zhimin Huang Liuquan Guo Lanfeng greater bay area
From left: Xie Feng, Lin Nianxiu, Fernando Chui Sai-on, Carrie Lam, Tung Chee-hwa, Ma Xingrui, Wang Zhimin, Huang Liuquan, Guo Lanfeng. File Photo: GovHK.

Demanding times demand vision for the future. It is probably too much to expect that anything of the kind will be forthcoming from the people running the Hong Kong government, most of whom will hesitate to blow their noses in the absence of guidance from Beijing.

They are evidently not up to the job. So let’s, once again, leave preparations for the future to the initiative of Hong Kong people who have already demonstrated their discipline and resilience in the face of the pandemic. All that the muppets at Tamar need to do is not get in the way and offer a bit of financial assistance – it is, after all, our money they will be dishing out.

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Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship