|Many people who care about Hong Kong have been wondering why it is so difficult to reach a consensus in governance. Such a failure has been blamed for rising social tension and a rapid erosion of people's trust in the government, which, in turn, has fed even greater public discontent.
This is unfortunate given the fact that the government's integrity has remained intact. Though derided often in Hong Kong for its many perceived foibles, the Hong Kong civil service is admired throughout the region for its efficiency and discipline.
The sometimes unruly legislative proceedings may lead some casual observers to put the blame on the radical politicians for turning the public against the government. That is flattery that these radical politicians don't deserve because none of them has the intellect, charisma or the basic common sense to influence public opinion. They are just opportunists exploiting the frustration of the public to gain political points.
The problem lies with the government, not so much for what it does, but for what it has not done. It has become clear there is an urgent need for a mega project that can fire the imagination of the majority of the people to galvanize public support behind the government. It must be a project that is seen to be built for the people and has the potential of producing direct benefits.
The proposed HZMB, Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge project, to be built at an estimated cost of HK$90 billion, is said to be key to Hong Kong's future in servicing the needs of economic development in the Pearl River Delta region. While few people dispute the importance of the new link, the question "what's in it for me" raised by many has remained unanswered.
Indeed, the project met with lingering public resistance because society has remained unconvinced that the benefits it can bring to the business community will eventually trickle down to the general population. The popular thinking is that if the link works as expected, it will further widen the wealth gap between the minority rich and the rest of the people.
The government doesn't have to look far for examples of public works projects for the people, supported by the people; the Mass Transit Railway is one of them.
To be sure, there were voices of dissent when the idea was broached in the mid 1970s. But they were soon drowned out by overwhelming support from a public unhappy with traffic pile ups and overcrowded buses. The project's detractors were probably right in warning that Hong Kong could ill afford such an ambitious project without resorting to debt financing. But the projected large-fare income won the support of domestic and international banks that were willing to provide loans to the MTR without the need for government guarantees.
Since the opening of the first line in early 1979, the MTR has been a source of pride to Hong Kong people. Despite occasional complaints about the high fares, the MTR is seen to have brought great convenience and benefits to hundreds of thousands of commuters every day. It belongs to the people and everybody feels he or she has a stake in it.
The other project of great significance to Hong Kong people was the building of the international airport at Chek Lap Kok. The airport was the linchpin of the Rose Garden Project that embraced the leveling of hills to build a railway, numerous access roads and bridges linking the airport to the city center. The entire project was widely attributed to have brought about an unprecedented economic boom time that began in the late 1980s and ended with the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis in 1997.
Perhaps Hong Kong needs another Rose Garden Project to instill a common purpose that can inspire and unite its people. To do that, the government needs to think big. A small government may sound good philosophically. But it won't sell.
From: China Daily (HK Edition)
By: Hong Liang
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