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'Too naive to trust this government'


Editor's note: This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. (一周政情:出爾反爾誠信一去不返 武進文退管治醜態畢現

What lessons could we possible draw from a marathon censoring a slogan used every day, having more non-locally trained doctors, banning e-cigarette and lobsters becoming a matter of national security? Well, Hong Kong officials have plenty to provide.

To begin, Legislative Council has approved new scheme that allow non-locally trained doctors to bypass local medial exam. Officials have walked back from earlier promise, which originally would only allow Hong Kong residents to apply. Businesses also complained government for breaking yet another promises to block both e-cigarettes and heated cigarette. Louise Ho, the new head of Customs and Excise, has linked the fight against smuggling lobster to national security, sparking of a diplomatic row over China's trade restrictions on Australia. Also, “Hong Kong Add Oil” was banned from Standard Chartered Marathon where runners are asked to replace clothings with the slogan. One week ago, however, the organiser found no problem with the same slogan.
 

Dr David Fang Jin-sheng calling the government "completely untrustworthy".

“I am too naive to trust this government,” said Dr David Fang Jin-sheng, who is the brother to former No 2 official Anson Chan and a renowned orthopaedic surgeon himself. He voted for Carrie Lam in the Chief Executive election. He was referring to the controversial Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill, which was passed 39 to 1 last week, that will allow non-Hong Kong residents to become doctors without passing the medical licensing examinations.
Under the new scheme, non-Hong Kong specialists will be able to apply for special registration to practise in Hong Kong. Any qualified doctors, Hong Kong residents or not, can apply for special registration if they have worked for five years in the four public healthcare institutions in Hong Kong and hold a recognised specialist qualification, and could then apply for full registration after another five years in public health sector.

The sole vote of opposition came from medical sector lawmaker Pierre Chan. He criticised the authorities for ignoring the views of the profession, describing it as a serious blow to professional autonomy and an abandoning professional standards and patients' well-being.
While once claimed the plan was only to bring in Hong Kong doctors who are overseas and are permanent residents, Sophia Chan the secretary for food and health abruptly raised three new amendments in late August, including the introduction of non-Hong Kong specialists.
Dr David Fang, who was previously consulted by the government, told CitizenNews that was never consulted about the new proposal, calling the government “completely untrustworthy”. He has described the abrupt introduction of doctors who are not non-Hong Kong permanent residents as a ticking bomb. Many colleague had already warned that the government could not be trusted, as he recalled he felt stupid once he learned about the new proposal from the news.

Fang’s criticism spoke volume about the new norm of Hong Kong governance in the post-National Security Law era.

There is no longer any meaningful opposition in the legislature. Only one opposition vote on paper. The status quo was nowhere comparable to British colonial era, where functional constituencies were introduced in 1985, and there would at least be consultation which bureaucrats once prided themselves in. Institutions and systems of consultations have fallen apart. Fang, who has worked in multiple public and professional bodies, has felt betrayed and failed his fellow doctors. How will professionals ever be able to trust the government’s words during consultations any more?

There is no need on the government’s part to rush through the legislation. A few months’ wait for the first batch of overseas doctor to start working in hospitals could well address the concerns on the quality of these doctors, paving way for extending the scope of the scheme. The medical profession and the community will be more receptive to the idea by then. The blatant backtracking from earlier promise erodes any remaining good will to government. It sends a clear political message to the public: the government controls Legco and can act however it like, without listening to views from the professional sector or stakeholders. Years of mutual trust and working relations have gone down the drain. What a loss!

Veteran pro-establishment lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong of the DAB, who chaired another bill about total ban on e-cigarettes, found himself in a similar situation to Fang. LegCo resumed second and third readings of the bill on Thursday. Wong said in his 17 year as a lawmaker and handled multiple bills, this bill scrutiny has ended being “troubled and with much regret”.
Wong described he was “put on a tough spot” by the government. According to Wong, he was asked to convey government’s point of view to member of his industry in disguise as his own. Carrie Lam the chief executive also made last minute meeting with him on the bill. The entire process, as Wong put it, made him felt government betrayed previous promises.

It is a matter of policy whether e-cigarettes should be completely banned or done in phase. Some argue that it may help smokers to quit smoking gradually, while others argue that it will attract young people to pick up the habit. While the government can severely restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, it can also conduct market research to gather evidence to tighten up legislation. A total ban, when traditional cigarettes are not completely banned, is more radical than in Europe, the US or the Mainland. This is not necessary.

Perhaps the Government thinks it can ignore the relevant sector’s view to push through a complete ban, noting no opposition in Legco. It may took the opportunity in order to demonstrate its decisiveness and strong leadership. This however will seriously damage the co-operation between the executive and Legco, and even undermine the credibly of pro-establishment lawmakers and their parties. Given the incident, does chairman of policy panels and bills committee still speak of the camp’s view? If their views are not respected, how could there even be effective consultation?

Another major setback in governance is increasing officials from disciplined forces are appointed to senior positions, despite they clearly lacked experience in running the show. Take Louise Ho, the new Commissioner of Customs and Excise as an example. She could have easily won praises for being the first Chinese female commissioner to lead disciplinary forces. Eager to show her allegiance to Beijing, she described the recent raid on lobster smuggling as a major mission to safeguard national security, which unexpectedly led to a diplomatic storm.

China has since last year imposed trade barriers against Australian imports, in retaliation for Australia’s push for international investigation if China is the origin of COVID-19. China has “side-tracked” the matter by stopping import of Australian lobsters. China claimed these checks are for food safety reasons which could have avoided Australia’s complain to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Louise Ho however has handed the Australians the perfect excuse and evidence, that China restricted import out of political grounds. Her foolish act reflects that these officials only know nothing beyond they did best. It can be catastrophic for them to become policymakers. 

Another example is the recent Standard Chartered Marathon, which was stopped last year due to the epidemic and was much anticipated by runners and the public. Organisers have already laid down detailed regulations to prevent runners from displaying political slogans during the race. For decades, people have been chanting “Hong Kong Add Oil”, literally meaning for Hong Kong to keep it up. It was only reasonable to keep the slogan, not merely because it was chanted during the protests in 2019.

Organiser hence told a press conference that there was no problem with "Hong Kong Add Oil" and that it was not prohibited. The remark was well publicised one week ahead of the event. Athletes however were asked to replace their clothes with "Hong Kong Add Oil" slogans before they could join the race.

What could we draw from this flip-flopping in policy making?

Firstly, it shows that officials from disciplinary services, who supervise the security of the event, have no respect for the organiser and their public remark, and they could u-turn at the eleventh hour without explaining to the public, or allow reasonable time for organiser to inform the press. No means no from them. It was astonishing to see how the largest sports event in the city was handled.

It was hard not to link the development to the fact that the event was officiated by chief secretary John Lee, who was a police officer, alongside with the current police chief Raymond Siu. Officers may have feared “Hong Kong Add Oil” the top brass and organisers are forced to walk back on their words and ban the slogan.

The ban on “Hong Kong Add Oil” becomes the focus instead of the race itself, and snowballed into an international political story. Security officials, however loyal they may be, clearly lacked common sense and political wisdom. God knows what will happen to governance, if they are allowed to be in power?