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Published: 00:14, May 12, 2022 | Updated: 11:28, May 15, 2022
It’s time for Hong Kong to put ‘executive-led governance’ in place
By Tu Haiming
Published:00:14, May 12, 2022 Updated:11:28, May 15, 2022 By Tu Haiming

Hong Kong is now at the critical juncture of pursuing prosperity after replacing chaos with stability. Chief executive-elect John Lee Ka-chiu, who won the sixth-term chief executive election with 99.2 percent of the Election Committee members’ support on Sunday, has rekindled local residents’ hope for a positive change of the status quo and confidence in sustainable development through innovation and reform.

The political system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, as enshrined in the Basic Law, is characterized by “executive-led governance”, with the CE accountable to the Central People’s Government on behalf of the SAR government as a whole. Unfortunately, more than two decades of extensive disruptions by the opposition camp not only made it extremely difficult for the SAR government to maintain executive-led operation but also obstructed efforts to pursue long-term development and resolve deep-rooted structural problems that have kept Hong Kong society from rising above its chronic ills.

Hong Kong has long been a center of international trade, finance and shipping as well as a free port and market economy. From a market point of view, the government should refrain from interference in the market as much as possible. While it is a matter of course for the market to believe in this capitalist doctrine, it is equally important to keep in mind that Hong Kong is a functioning society, where local residents and overseas investors all need an orderly and harmonious social environment to feel safe. It is the SAR government’s responsibility to be proactive in governing according to law as the “enabler of social stability” and “protector of people’s livelihoods”. The government cannot live up to such expectations until the executive-led system is fully implemented. As shown in the months-long social unrest that began in the summer of 2019 and the more-recent messy early response to the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, there can never be business as usual unless a wholly accountable party takes the main responsibility according to the executive-led formula and prevents any crisis from occurring.

Seeing the dire consequences of failure to fully implement executive-led governance in the SAR, the central authorities took the decisive step of promulgating the National Security Law for Hong Kong in 2020, followed by last year’s decision to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system to prevent subversive forces from infiltrating the SAR’s political establishment.

Since the National Security Law came into effect and the new electoral system was implemented, the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” has been put into full play. There is no better time than now for Hong Kong to put the executive-led governance into full play as well and turn the SAR government into a results-oriented, hands-on administration dedicated to resolving the deep-rooted social problems for the sake of lasting peace and stability.

Lee has said the SAR government must “know what to do and do it well”, which requires strong governance capabilities. Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, while explaining the “patriots administering Hong Kong” principle, pointed out that it is not easy at all to govern Hong Kong well, a mission only those with the correct mindset and necessary skills can pull off. They must not only love the country and the Hong Kong SAR but also possess adequate virtues and talents required of competent administrators. In other words, they must not only want to do their jobs well but must also be capable of doing their jobs well.

In the past, we saw some civil servants focus more on the process than on the expected result, and “play it safe” rather than “aim high”. In moments of crises, they tended to think about excuses for shirking responsibility first instead of proactive ways to help Hong Kong residents with better services. During the “black revolution” spearheaded by black-clad rioters in 2019 in particular, some primary- and secondary-school teachers who subscribed to separatist ideas injected their own political biases into the innocent minds of the students, such as “achieving justice by breaking the law”, which obviously ran counter to the established code of conduct for educators but was merely met with spoken “condemnation” and “regret” by government officials instead of disciplinary action according to relevant law. This is but one example of government functionaries’ failure to perform their duties according to relevant laws and regulations and yet more proof the SAR government needs a thorough reform of its old work philosophy. John Lee has put forward the “results-oriented” governance philosophy that utilizes teamwork in finding solutions and requires ranking officials to intervene appropriately before any budding issue becomes a full-blown crisis. Such leadership thinking deserves our appreciation.

It is a sacred responsibility of the government to build a caring, inclusive and diverse society. To be good at effective governance, our leaders must be able to identify what hurts society the most. Hong Kong society has been seriously divided in recent years, not by differences over “democracy”, as some people would have us believe, but rather by livelihood problems such as a widening wealth gap and the deterioration of living standards characterized by the inadequacy in affordable housing, employment for young people and confidence in a better future. These deep-seated social problems could be played up and exploited readily by the political radicals to incite social unrest that could tear apart the social fabric. That is why the sixth-term SAR government to be led by John Lee must resolutely focus on relieving those social ills with appropriate solutions as soon as possible.

It is worth noting that a high-performing government must administer according to law. In practice, this means 1) the government must do its job within the confines of Hong Kong law; 2) when necessary, it must invoke the Emergency Ordinance to apply a quick response; and 3) the authorities must initiate proper legislation aimed at remedying any statutory inadequacy in the best interest of Hong Kong society as a whole.

Meanwhile, a high-performing government also needs to build societal consensus and facilitate concerted efforts on solving the problems at hand. That is why the next CE must be able to reach people of all political stripes. Lee said his administration will tap into public wisdom for solutions, and that the governance is never a personal matter or exclusive government business. That bodes well for Hong Kong.

The author is a Hong Kong member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.  

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