Without democracy, where comes good governance | Benny Tai Yiu-ting

Published (HKT): 2020.12.29 10:15

Some people do not understand how in these few years, there is always a group of people in Hong Kong who have been persistently fighting for democracy. They believe that during the colonial period, although there was no democracy in Hong Kong, the economic development was rapid. Opportunities were everywhere, society was stable, and the government was uncorrupted and efficient. Even if the citizens had no interest in politics, they abided by the law, and making Hong Kong a paradise for living and working. Since there was no democracy and the governance could be of such high quality, they find it hard to understand what exactly these people fighting for democracy want.

Since Hong Kong already had what an “ideal” society needs during the colonial era, then after the Handover, the most important should be to retain the edges from the colonial period. In addition, China’s economy has been rapidly taking off in recent years and even surpassed that of Hong Kong. Merging with the mainland economic development will only be good for Hong Kong. This is an obvious logic.

However, those people fighting for democracy strongly oppose this. They must have ulterior motives. Behind the banner of democracy there must be some hidden secrets that cannot be told, otherwise, why would they be chasing after such a vague and meaningless thing called democracy, while glaring at the cooperation with China’s economic development as such a scourge? In the end, the conclusion they could reach is that all these people fighting for democracy are being used by foreign forces. They want to use Hong Kong as a base for subversion with the purpose of undermining China’s peaceful rise.

These people only have their eyes on the surface. They do not see that behind the improvement of life from hard work, there has always been another group of unfortunate people in Hong Kong who are unable to share the fruits of economic takeoff. The disparity between the rich and the poor has become increasingly serious, and people are suffering within this splendid, glamorous great city.

They also do not see that since the Handover, the line between mainland China and Hong Kong has gradually become blurred. The corruption in the north has slowly infiltrated Hong Kong and eroded the foundation of good governance. The ones at the top have lost not only the conscience and awareness of respecting the dignity and rights of citizens, but also the ability to self-correct. They have mutated into effective tools for suppressing dissent.

Moreover, they do not see that after waves of social movements, many Hongkongers have realized that if a democratic system cannot be established as soon as possible and be the foundation for good governance, the level of governance that has been achieved will soon be lost as well. Since the Handover, the SAR government has had four Chief Executives, and the level of governance has deteriorated. This is apparent that the issue of Hong Kong is not whether democracy can improve the governance of Hong Kong, like icing on the cake, but that without democracy, how can the governance of Hong Kong not worsen to a matter of life or death. Simply put, the impasse Hong Kong is currently in is not an issue of democracy, but the governance failure in the absence of democracy.

The best example is how Carrie Lam’s government has handled the epidemic. Carrie Lam and the main members of her team all came out of being administrative officials during the colonial era, therefore they should be well-versed in colonial governance. However, due to Hong Kong’s special circumstances, this supposedly effective and able governance team has performed extremely poorly in the handling of the epidemic. They are not even at the level of Macao.

First of all, Hongkongers have in general cultivated a sense of democracy, and no longer trust that a bureaucracy not elected by the people could make all the decisions. Therefore, many people refuse to actively cooperate with the epidemic prevention measures proposed by this bureaucracy. This makes the effectiveness of these measures questionable.

Furthermore, due to the political needs of the mainland government to care for the feelings of the mainland people, the SAR government has not stopped the virus in time from entering through the border shared with the mainland. With anti-epidemic measures, medical professional consideration should always take priority; however, the SAR government has put politics above all else, and instead, has used epidemic prevention as an excuse to suppress the anti-government forces and consciousness detonated during the anti-ELAB movement. It has yet to get to the root of the problem in time.

Because there is no democracy, a governance team that should have the ability to handle the epidemic properly is not only lacking the trust of the people, but with politics above all else, even if it makes the right decision, the ability to execute is lacking. This ultimately leads to a complete failure of the bureaucracy in the handling of this epidemic. This holds true in the case of the epidemic, but it is also in other aspects of governance. Without democracy in Hong Kong, there cannot be good governance. One will have to be delusional if it is expected that a high level of governance can be maintained without democracy in a situation like Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is currently in a situation where not only good governance cannot be achieved, but there is a lack of civic empowerment. The two are causally linked. This ineffective governance is also unsustainable long-term. Even those who were not very supportive of democracy in the past, who believed that good governance is of the utmost importance, are now able to see that without democracy, there cannot be good governance.

Everyone knows that should this continue, Hong Kong will soon reach a dead end.

Therefore, all those supportive of democracy are not just fighting because democracy is a basic human right, but also because without democracy, there cannot be good governance in Hong Kong. As such, we must persist till the end, until there is a path out.

(Benny Tai Yiu-Ting is a Hong Kong legal scholar and democracy activist.)

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