As soon as Hong Kong’s government unveiled its new stamp duties on property, expatriates who were not permanent residents started complaining that the 15% ‘Locust Levy’ would stop them from buying an apartment here. That anyone – least of all people with relatively fresh memories of less insane overseas housing markets – was planning on buying at current prices was a bit of a shock. But there it was: they felt victimized, and clearly envied those of us still entitled to pay HK$11,000 a square foot for a little concrete box in a distant cramped estate with a silly name.
Now the tables are turned. Expatriates (with or without full residency) are allowed to reserve places in the English Schools Foundation network for their children by paying HK$500,000 for a debenture. Locals – anyone who can’t produce a foreign passport – have lower priority, and they are seething at the injustice of it.
Just as expats demand the privilege of buying a grotesquely overpriced apartment, the Hong Kong Chinese insist on the right to give their children the lame, homework-lite, project-based, teamwork-oriented, namby-pamby education that puts Western countries so far behind Asian ones in international rankings. Rather than give their kids the rigorous, exam-based, ultra-competitive, high-pressure, results-focused schooling that has them doing calculus by age 10, they would prefer the liberal environment of the gwailo school, where the kids’ finger-paintings aren’t graded lest it hurts the losers’ self-esteem, the guitar is considered a musical instrument, and it’s cool to get drunk and stoned and put the video on YouTube.
On the subject of covetousness, a rash of red-eye disease breaks out whenever the government appoints a new gaggle of fresh-faced and other semi-misfits as Deputy Assistant Sub-Undersecretaries and, even worse, Political Assistants, as happened yesterday. The reason is simple: the Political Assistants get HK$98,700 a month (because HK$100,000 would look like too much), and the Under Secretaries’ pay is so great I can’t cram it all in here.
But hold that jealousy. These jobs are less desirable than you would imagine. First, these people are disposable and may not be around for more than a few years. Second, the job will not be much fun. There are grumbles that they are duplicating civil servants’ roles, and it is true that the Under Secretary awkwardly shares her bureau’s number-two slot with a non-fireable civil servant Permanent Secretary who is an expert on everything. But political appointees are now supposed to do things the bureaucrats are increasingly reluctant to do.
Much of this involves arguing the government’s case before the media. Civil servants have increasingly shied away from this for the understandable reasons that the policies they have had to defend have been dire and people recognize them in the street and laugh. The really nasty bit is appearing before and lobbying members of the Legislative Council. Dragging Liberal Party tycoon-legislators out of bed at 1.00am to get a budget passed is the least of it; going 10 rounds before a Legco committee with a belligerent radical lawmaker bringing down the full might of People Power upon you, all live on TV, is, by all accounts, harrowing.
They won’t have a nice time. Fortunately, many of these new political appointees are ex-journalists. As we all know, and have seen so vividly in the past, former reporters have a near-magical ability to make even the cruddiest, stupidest and most malevolent policies appear wonderful and become instantly popular across the community.
Is no-one ever satisfied? As Headline of the Week in today’s Standard makes clear, even microscopic infectious agents are complaining…