Changes

The future Chief executive has just been confirmed – without hiccup – by 98 per cent of the Electoral Committee. The incumbent, for most practical matters, becomes a caretaker. We are just starting the last phase of the transition period. Many people are asking what the new tenure will bring about.


That is easier to ask than to answer, especially in a polity not distinguished by its openness or tradition of public debate. Moreover, this is an economy highly dependent upon factors over which there is little domestic control. A fair share of the economic performance will hinge on external factors and their impact upon our income engines, the many casinos that have set foot in town.  The external signs are getting grayer, and tougher times likely lie ahead.

Also, there is no expectation of significant changes in the political architecture. This will evolve following the customary path of (re)interpreting the existing frame and legislating accordingly, as convenience or events dictate. So, it is easier to list the likely problems the new CE will face than to speculate about how transformative his mandate will be, by design or circumstance. And the issues that most affect residents’ daily livelihood make it to the news, one way or the other, with regular frequency. All have an old flavour.

Topping them all is housing rents, and its twin sister, business rents. The first limits the options of the young. Here, the Hong Kong instability of late may have some lessons for the local polity. It is possibly an issue that unaddressed may fester partly unnoticed until it’s impossible not to notice it anymore. Besides, it is an obstacle (among others) to the attraction of external talent that would boost the declining and aging domestic labour force.

On their side, unbridled business rents will deter many an innovative new venture. In tandem with the rigidity of the labour market, they will continue as one key obstacle to the sacrosanct, yet undefined and unattained goal of diversification. As has been the case for several decades, the share growth of other sectors in the economy will more often be the outcome of a contraction in gambling than the result of faster autonomous development.

These problems become even more intractable if we bear in mind that the social security system has weaknesses that we have yet to resolutely address. An older population will not only stress the pension fund but will also bear on the costs of the health and care services. The over-protective instincts of some of the local established organised social and economic interests do not make that equation any easier to resolve.

Then, we have transportation issues and their associated congestion (and pollution) impacts. Sure, the Light Rail System will start operations (or better, some operations) possibly in time for the 20th Anniversary of the MSAR. But whatever will begin service, eight years late and several orders of magnitude beyond the original budget, will be a far cry from the promises made in the earliest years of the century. And nobody seems to be pretending anymore that it will resolve traffic problems in any significant way. Recent trials even suggest the track may provoke motion sickness in some users, which would provide a fitting complement to its almost implausible construction chronicle.

Will things, therefore, remain unchanged? Surely not. To paraphrase a poet, and as is usually the case, things will keep going on as if nothing is happening. Until something happens, we may add. As, in the end, it always does.

For better or worse.