Two years on, what is the beef ?

Compared with previous administrations, the John Lee team has arguably been most aggressive when it comes to publicity, aka propaganda. But if his interview with a group of local media published at the weekend was aimed to propagate the success of his team nearing its second anniversary, it has done the opposite. It has exposed their shortcomings, not achievements in the past two years.

Cynics have a point to say the biggest achievement of the Lee administration in the past 12 years is not about getting a damningly good job done, but instead, undoing the heavily-criticised waste levy scheme, or more accurately, shelving it indefinitely.

To the government, putting a stop to the scheme helps lessen livelihood burden and people’s grievances. In a sense, it does sound like no small achievement. But the fact that the waste charging scheme was halted shortly before it was scheduled to be implemented almost two decades after it was first raised shows it sounds more like a textbook government failure.


An embarrassing mark

Speaking at the second anniversary interview, Lee has ducked a question of whether the levy was a “political timebomb” left over from the previous administration, referring to the Carrie Lam team. It is worth noting Lee served as security minister when Lam took the helm in 2017 and was promoted to be the Chief Secretary in 2021.

He said in the interview solely using a punitive approach to reduce waste “is not in the right direction,” nor is it enforceable. Call it hindsight wisdom.

In a nutshell, the Government seems to have decided to take a new direction in its whole waste reduction strategy almost two decades after it was first broached by the Tung Chee-hwa administration.

Only time will tell on whether Lee will be able to put forward a comprehensive, long-term strategy in waste reduction during his current term. But the dramatic suspension of the levy scheme has put an embarrassing mark on the second-year work report of the Lee administration. It has also made a mockery of his pledge that the Government will focus on revitalising the economy and improving livelihood after the passage of the Article 23 legislation.


An intriguing self-appraisal

Two years on, the Lee team has been long in its talk on tackling a long list of livelihood issues such as subdivided housing, street hygiene, flooding and economic issues including the weak tourism and retail industries. Its record of achievements, if any, is unimpressive.

In an intriguing self-appraisal, Lee told reporters his team has put a cap on the average waiting time for public housing applicants to no more than six years. The Government has promised an average waiting time of three years in its public housing policy.

Lee has also trumpeted the success of the light public housing scheme despite lingering doubts about the basic thinking behind the scheme and its practical significance in tackling the long-running housing problems.

Like livelihood, the economic scene has been far from encouraging.

Coincidental it is, official figures released last week that show bankruptcy figures hitting a two-year monthly high are yet another indicator of the unenergetic economy.

In a rebuttal to claims that the number of vacant street commercial shops has surged, Lee argued newly-opened shops have outnumbered shops that had closed down, citing figures, but without giving details of its source.

The Hong Kong economy, he said, has bade farewell to negative growth to positive growth after he took office. He is telling the truth in numerical terms. The reason is obvious, namely the end of Covid. Figures also show clearly Hong Kong is among the slowest in the region when it comes to post-Covid economic recovery.


The biggest success

If anything, the annual Chief Executive’s Award for Exemplary Performance this year went to the Article 23 task force composed of members from the Department of Justice, Security Bureau and the Police is indicative of what Lee saw as his biggest success in the past 12 months, namely the passage of another national security law.

It adds to the long list of jobs, or, what the Lee team would deem as achievements, on the political front, which, when put together, have helped end chaos and lead the city from stability to prosperity.

Ordinary citizens, however, could be forgiven for feeling bewildered about the “exemplary performance” of the Article 23 team and how they have helped make Hong Kong a better place to live. Similarly, they could be pardoned for feeling confused about the intensified second anniversary propaganda campaign. Where’s the beef?


▌[At Large] About the Author
Chris Yeung is a veteran journalist, a founder and chief writer of the now-disbanded CitizenNews; he now runs a daily news commentary channel on Youtube. He had formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal.