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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • 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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before