Sad story last week about a man who set out to rob a bank. He waved a gun-like object at the cashier, who emptied the till into a bag. Apparently this only amounted to HK$14,000; banks are just not a pile of cash waiting to be collected these days.

A man robbed a bank in Yau Ma Tei on April 14. Photo: Video screenshot, via Facebook.

Anyway the robber exited the bank. The cashier, a conscientious person, gave chase from a safe distance and observed the robber get into his getaway vehicle: a public bus!

Naturally the proverbial hue and cry was raised and the police met the bus when it got to Sham Shui Po. Alas our robber may have been parsimonious but he was not stupid, and had already got off at an earlier stop.

I suppose the entire bank robbery industry will be horrified at this decline in standards. A get-away car is usual, departing on the back seat of a motorbike makes sense in traffic-clogged cities, but hopping on the 85D for a couple of stops is letting the profession down.

More seriously, the robber no doubt had very little in the way of working capital, driven to desperation by the disruption to life in general and the economy in particular caused by the Covid-19 virus and the government’s efforts to combat it.

Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong during the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

People are hurting. So this is not an auspicious time for our leaders to engage in a spectacularly wasteful exhibition of conspicuous consumption. Which is why it seems a shame that the processing of our sole candidate for chief executive, John Lee, is taking such an expensive form.

The government spent HK$85 million over the past two financial years and budgeted a provisional HK$228 million for this exercise in 2022-23. When it was postponed because of Covid, we were told that this change of date would cost a further HK$50 million. That is a lot of money for an “election” whose result is already a foregone conclusion.

This is not a criticism of the electoral system. Whatever system you use to choose – or choose to use – if there is only one candidate, there is surely no need to go through the whole ritual, especially if the whole ritual is as expensive as this one.

Chief executive hopeful John Lee submits his nomination forms at City Gallery. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Officially the money goes on “hiring venues, manning polling and counting stations, mailing, and renting storage space”. I take it from all these plurals that the amount includes the election of the election committee itself.

But the election committee elections were all done and dusted when the chief executive election was postponed, so we are left to wonder what the extra $50 million is for.

I suppose we shall have to mail the electors a polling card of some kind, with a notification of the place and date of voting. After that?

Clearly nobody has turned their mind to possible economies. Apparently the voting will take place in the Convention and Exhibition Centre, which is neither convenient nor cheap, and will go on all day, which is quite unnecessary.

This is surely an opportunity for Leung Chun-ying, the election convenor, to make his mark as a man with an eye to eliminating wasteful expenditure. The government owns plenty of large indoor spaces which could be used for the election without paying. The poll could be held in the Government House Ball Room, West Kowloon Rail station, the Queen Elizabeth Stadium… the list is endless.

The 2017 Chief Executive Election was held in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. File photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

There is no need for it to go on all day. All we have to do is to assemble the electors in a large space. The national anthem is played. Leung stands up and delivers a suitably localised equivalent of:

“The motion before the House is that Mr John Lee should be nominated to the Beijing authorities as Hong Kong’s choice for the office of Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR Government. Those in favour say ‘Aye’. (pause) Those against say ‘No’ (silent pause). The Ayes have it. I declare Mr John Lee duly elected.”

This would save a lot of paper, time and expense. If we ever have two candidates in the future it may need to be elaborated a bit. But for the time being it should enable Leung to save about HK$49 million of the budgeted expenses, and star on an unusual bit of television.

You’re welcome.

Don’t clap; throw money.


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Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.