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Tuesday, April 23, 2019, 01:27
Govt should not allow medical clique to hold the city hostage
By N. Balakrishnan
Tuesday, April 23, 2019, 01:27 By N. Balakrishnan

I have been lucky enough to have encountered some excellent doctors in Hong Kong, highly skilled and totally dedicated to the welfare of their patients. So, I hesitate to call the doctors of Hong Kong or at least the medical luminaries who run the Hong Kong Medical Council “peasants” in their mindset despite their clean white coats and gleaming stethoscopes.

Again, let me emphasize that by labeling someone a “peasant” I do not mean it as a put-down. Peasants are among the hardest working people on earth, braving the elements day and night so we urban folks can enjoy tasty food in our comfortable cocoons. Peasants are also fiercely loyal to their families.  

Alas, despite their virtues, some peasants cannot see beyond their small plots of land and fiercely resist any technology, law or regulation that tries to introduce change to their “small-scale” production. Or as Karl Marx put it, “The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. Their field of production, the small holding, permits no division of labor in its cultivation, no application of science, and therefore no multifariousness of development, no diversity of talent, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society”.

...most of the population suffers from overcrowded public hospitals, a sad and illogical example of a “rich city, poor citizens” syndrome. All because a few doctors entrenched in their trade union do not have the heart to look past their narrow self-interest

When I see the resistance to any collective action from hard-working members of various sectors in Hong Kong, including ranging from owners of taxis to medical doctors, I am reminded of the “peasant mentality” crippling Hong Kong’s service industries from moving on to the next stage of development. The attitude can be summed up as: “I will continue to work hard in my small plot with my family as my ancestors have done and will not budge an inch to change.”

Such an attitude, of course, is not peculiar to Hong Kong. After all, Marx was writing about France when he wrote those remarks about “peasants”. But there are larger forces in other societies which make sure that this sort of “selfish” attitude does not prevail. Such attitudes include a very strong government such as for example that exists in Singapore which cleared cemeteries, re-possessed land under speeded-up laws to build housing for the masses. Or you have Soviet Union where collectivization was launched.

Capitalism has its own way of dealing with selfishness. Large companies buy up small companies and even large companies merge or “take over” each other to form behemoths. I remember from my student days in the US that ice cream brands such as Haagen-Dazs used to be very small companies in New York City but now have become part of huge multinationals that distribute the same brand across the globe and even on airlines!

But in the case of Hong Kong, a city where a sort of “family capitalism” controlled by a few family-controlled conglomerates rules, the rule of capitalism seems to break down, especially since the Hong Kong authorities and laws are either weak or choose to be weak.

In this peculiar situation that prevails in Hong Kong, a no man’s land of monopoly capitalism, the “peasant” interests can hold hostage the larger interests of society. Thus, Hong Kong taxi companies can stop ride-hailing services, which are thriving in socialist Chinese mainland and the capitalist West or even Southeast Asia, from entering Hong Kong. There is an extreme shortage of housing in Hong Kong, while real estate developers sit on vast tracts of undeveloped land.

But the most shameful example of selfishness, and downright protectionism, is how a few egocentric doctors dominating the Medical Council of Hong Kong, can stop well-qualified doctors and nurses from abroad working in Hong Kong. Even the Hong Kong government is willing to open its purse strings to solve the public health crisis. And yet most of the population suffers from overcrowded public hospitals, a sad and illogical example of a “rich city, poor citizens” syndrome. All because a few doctors entrenched in their trade union do not have the heart to look past their narrow self-interest.

If the Medical Council of Hong Kong fails to “regulate itself”, then the SAR government should enforce commonsense control over it to ensure the provision of adequate medical services to the public. In Singapore the government moved into regulating their Medical Council long ago and the Indian government has done likewise. The Hong Kong government should not damage our city’s vaunted “can-do” spirit through inaction on this critical issue crying for long overdue decisive government intervention for the greater good. 

The author is an entrepreneur active in the Asian-Pacific region and a former foreign correspondent.

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