It’s well past time to look beyond the pitiable pretence of local governance of Hong Kong and make some fundamental — not to mention hugely cost-saving — changes.

Think about it. What’s the point of the regular, ritualistic public opinion polls evaluating the performance of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her coterie of ministers —surveys that have gone from bad to really bad to even worse since Lam assumed office in July 2017 — when it has become perfectly obvious that these officials are now nothing more than grossly overpaid functionaries for a central government that calls all the shots in Hong Kong.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Indeed, why are Lam & Co. continuing to feed so heartily from the public trough? If none of them showed up for work one day, how many Hongkongers would notice or care?
Would we miss the endless kowtowing? The patriotic bromides? The nonsense about collusion with foreign forces? The arrogance? The self-entitlement? The rank incompetence? 
Not at all. 

And we certainly would not miss paying their outrageously inflated salaries. Surely, Hong Kong now ranks first in the world for taxpayers who pay the most for officials who do the least. 
Lam, one of the highest-paid public officials on the planet, pockets HK$5.2 million (US$672,000) annually for the daily prostrations she must perform to prove her newfound love for the Chinese Community Party and contempt for all things democratic. 

Her recently appointed chief secretary, former security tsar and police officer John Lee Ka-chiu, pulls in a cool HK$4.5 million for doing what Lam has described as essentially the same job as the man who replaced him as secretary for security (salary: HK$4.2 million), former police chief Chris Tang Ping-keung.

Both of these apparatchiks are clearly taking all their cues from the central government’s Office for Safeguarding National Security, established in the immediate aftermath of the enactment of the oppressive national security law Beijing imposed on the city on June 30, 2020. The office is headed by Zheng Yanxiong, well known for the instrumental role he played in crushing the 2011 Wukan uprising against local Communist Party authorities in Guangdong .

Carrie Lam Raymond Siu John Lee Chris Tang
(From left to right) Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu, Chief Secretary John Lee, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Secretary for Security Chris Tang. Photo: GovHK.

There is no need for the national security puppet show, which also often includes our bogus if equally well-remunerated secretaries for justice and education, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and Kevin Yeung Yun-hung respectively. And, speaking of extravagantly overpaid officials, let’s not forget finance minister Paul Chan Mo-po, whose main strategic objective seems to be waiting for mainland authorities to open the border with Hong Kong. Bang for your taxpayer buck? No, less than a whimper. 

Moreover, our de facto chief executive does not sit in an office at Hong Kong government headquarters in Tamar but, rather, is pointedly presiding in Sai Ying Pun, where the mainland’s liaison office is located. When liaison chief Luo Huining speaks, Hong Kong officials, who have made a habit of ignoring the voice of their own people, suddenly become model listeners.

Stern pronouncements on law and order and national security by Xia Baolong, the director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office who earned his political stripes removing crucifixes and shutting down churches as Communist Party boss of Zhejiang from 2012-2017, produce a similar hyper-focusing effect on Hong Kong officialdom. 

Luo Huining
Director of the Liaison Office Luo Huining. Photo: GovHK screenshot.

It’s Luo, Xia and Zheng who are running this city now. Everyone else is just following orders. And while sacking the fawning, obsequious lot of them — from Lam on down — would no doubt give many Hongkongers great cathartic pleasure, it’s not going to happen because Beijing needs its local lackeys to maintain the façade of “Hong Kong people running Hong Kong.” 

But that fast crumbling façade no longer justifies the rarefied salaries Hong Kong officials continue to rake in for employment that has become little more than political servitude. 

The Office of the Ombudsman, currently under the leadership of Winnie Chiu Wai-yin, has for more than three decades done admirable work pointing out consumer fraud and governmental inadequacies and inefficiencies that cost Hongkongers wasted time and money. 

Plainly, however, Chiu’s office has overlooked the biggest scam going in Hong Kong these days.

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Kent Ewing is a teacher and writer who has lived in Hong Kong for more than two decades. He has written for the South China Morning Post, The Standard, Asia Times and Asia Sentinel. Allegations to the contrary, he insists he is not a colonial fossil. Follow him on Twitter.