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Speeches

Article by URA Chairman, Mr Barry Cheung, in the South China Morning Post - Let the Government Govern

Among many sections of our population, a serious sense of discontent is abundantly clear. To judge by what you read in the newspapers, you might also think that all our problems arise from not having a fully elected government, and that all our difficulties would quickly disappear if only democracy were introduced tomorrow.

I agree that good government must be governmentforthe people, and that democracy is an ideal for which we should strive. Where I profoundly disagree, however, is that governmentforthe people necessarily involves the full and free elections usually associated with governmentbythe people. In themselves, elections do not guarantee a government that rules in the interests of the majority of citizens, just as an absence of elections does not necessarily preclude a government that does.

I believe that Hong Kong people, with their practical wisdom, grasp this reality much better than some of the politicians who claim to speak for them. Most people know that full democracy is on its way, but it is not here today nor will it be here tomorrow. In the meantime, most people realize, even if they cannot immediately enjoy governmentbythe people, they still want governmentforthe people. This is what we have achieved in the past when provided with enlightened policies that have nurtured the strong institutions and economic growth which have made Hong Kong one of the world's most stable and prosperous cities.

And we have a right to expect the same quality of government today. As financial turmoil elsewhere in the world since 2009 has demonstrated, Hong Kong still has a great capacity to get things right. Yet this is not a city that accepts any form of complacency., We know very well that our "home town" faces serious challenges and that if we are to continue to thrive and prosper, these will require radical solutions.

The most urgent issue on the community's agenda is rising economic inequality in the midst of continuing overall prosperity. The statistics speak for themselves. Hong Kong's GDP has increased at an annual average of 3 per cent in the past 15 years. Our Gini coefficient -- the standard measure of income inequality -- is on a par with countries like Mexico. Throughout history, such inequalities have undermined trust in governments and in economic elites. This trend is now visible in Hong Kong. Last month, a University of Hong Kong survey showed that public discontent with government had risen to an all-time high, with 36 per cent of people holding a negative view of government, and only 23 per cent taking a positive view.

Nor is such disaffection prompted only by economic factors. Complaints are widespread about the quality of our environment, medical services, the supply of land and homes, as well as our standards of education. The community can no longer be pacified with excuses that these problems take time and money to fix. Public discontent on all these issues is long-standing, and our public coffers are in excellent shape. What is missing has been the political will to tackle the most pressing anxieties of Hong Kong's people.

The result is an increasing lack of trust in government itself. This is corrosive of any society, and it is a matter of the utmost importance that this trust be rebuilt. I am optimistic that it can be. What is needed now is for our government to be seen to be responding to the concerns of ordinary people and doing the right thing to effect positive change. This in turn means government must have the courage to stand firm against narrow entrenched interests, and against the battering of special interest groups, to do what is right.

Not for a minute am I suggesting that the administration should in any way abandon the core values that Hong Kong people hold dear, such as the rule of law. Institutions such as this, the Harvard and Oxford historian Niall Fergusson argues, are the crucial underpinnings of any form of government that is not to be arbitrary and expropriating. So we need consultation. We need transparency and accountability. We need to follow legislative and financial procedures meticulously. We need the rule of law. We must also ensure that we maintain the economic growth that will generate our future prosperity.

But above all, we need leadership. I believe that we now have a Chief Executive totally committed to change in the interests of all Hong Kong's people. I am also confident that the new administration will recruit those who can truly help implement  its plans.

The new administration will not be able to achieveanything, however, if it is not allowed to lead and govern. Doubts on this score have become very discouraging, and they do us no good internationally, Hong Kong is now riven with political discord. Rather than focusing on what we have in common and working together to overcome the serious challenges we face, Hong Kong's attention -- and precious time and energy -- are distracted by issues which, in the grand scheme of things, are of only temporary and often merely trivial significance. The result is that the new administration has been hobbled before it has even had a chance to get off the ground. Political points may be scored, but no-one wins, least of all the poor, the elderly, the sick and the homeless.

What we desperately need is a political ceasefire. I would like to urge members of our opposition to please give the new government the chance it deserves to respond to the mandate of the people by doing the right things. Our starting point ought to be the many important areas of agreement with the new administration This is only right and reasonable, and I believe it is what the Hong Kong people want. It is also what the transition to democratic government requires, and what the handover was designed to achieve.

(ENDS)