Colonial echoes as Tung shuts out the people

Can it really be just a month since the installation of the new order in Hong Kong? The question arises because in this very short space of time a sea change has swept through the former colony's civil service which was forced kicking and screaming into a more open existence under the former Governor Chris Patten.

His insistence on open government and accountability was not met with enthusiasm by the 180,000 strong civil service, which saw itself as an elite responsible only to its own leaders. The Patten regime forced even the most humble civil servant to recognise that he or she was also responsible to the public, even if in only minor ways such as answering telephone enquiries and replying to letters in days rather than months.

Now Mr Patten has gone. A collective sigh of relief was almost audible from recalcitrant members of the service who were never really happy being exposed to daylight. The new order does not encourage openness. Tung Chee Hwa, the Chief Executive, is affable but highly reserved in communicating with the public, except in the most general of terms. His office has gathered power within its confines and delegates authority with great reluctance.

Officials have got the new message very quickly. On a recent visit to a school, pupils were instructed not to touch Mr Tung as this would inconvenience him. This is a far cry from the Patten days when no outstretched hand would be disappointed by lack of a tactile response.

Residents of a public housing estate, visited by Mr Tung, were instructed not to raise any controversial subjects if he decided to talk to them and to emphasise positive things. This kind of heavy handed people management was a hallmark of the old style colonial regime given a battering by a determined Chris Patten who would announce district visits at the last minute to prevent officials from staging elaborate receptions.

It seems unlikely that Mr Tung himself has ordered his officials to go back to their old ways but his style of government, which is similar to the style of running his family's shipping company, is conducive to the restoration of colonial practices.

The new atmosphere of government is evident in both big and small ways. A visit to the government vehicle licensing centre, one of the biggest departments dealing directly with the public, quickly revealed that officials were back to their old leisurely mode of what passes for service. Combining the ability to be indolent and brusque, they allowed monster queues to form and were unperturbed by the inconvenience caused.

Meanwhile, the government has announced sweeping changes to the electoral system and allowed no more than nine days for a consultation exercise on the matter. The public is not being allowed to discuss the substance of the changes, only the details of how they are to be implemented.

If the government is not much interested in what the public has to say, it seems equally uninterested in the views of the new legislature, installed by China, replacing the previously elected body. Although the legislators could hardly be described as assertive, even this tame body was somewhat taken aback to be ordered to pass legislation in a single day which overturned a raft of new employment legislation. Worried about being seen as no more than a rubber stamp, the legislators rebelled and said they needed at least a reasonable breathing space to consider the issues.

Although the new administration seems to have got off to a shaky start, the public appears not to be overly concerned. With the stock market consistently testing new highs, economic confidence remains buoyant. Indeed a survey conducted for two local newspapers showed that economic confidence has risen since the handover while political confidence remained at the same level as before.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat