Impeachment is a European import. Derived from French and Roman sources, the word has defined the charge of serious misconduct in public office for several hundred years.
Nonetheless, its fruity overtones are appropriate in early summer, both in Washington DC and Hong Kong, as accusations of improper behaviour by President Trump and Chief Executive C Y Leung dominate the news in both cities.
Regardless of the outcome of the various inquiries that target each of them, there is one obvious local loser, Carrie Lam. The well-publicised difficulties she encountered in forming her government were not eased by the pan-democratic drive to impeach C Y Leung. Candidates initially reluctant to expose themselves to the pressures and scrutiny of public life would have contemplated the gloomy reality that the term of office for each of Carrie Lam’s predecessors ended badly. It looked too much like boarding the Titanic, knowing the inevitability of disaster.
C H Tung resigned in the wake of the failed passage of Article 23 legislation, Donald Tsang is out of jail on bail and facing a further charge in September, and now C Y is challenged by the threat of impeachment. Public service can have seldom looked less appealing.
And those who have agreed to take up the burden of office will be dispirited by the inevitable supposition in Hong Kong that collectively the new team is the B team.
It would be optimistic to assume the confidence and effectiveness of the incoming Government will be unaffected by these considerations. Undoubtedly vested interests from the Heung Yee Kuk, to property developers and taxi licence owners will see diminished possibilities of radical government policies threatening their privileges.
The other losers in these circumstances will be Hong Kong people. Business-as-usual will not provide affordable housing nor cleaner air. It will not breed new generations of entrepreneurs. Stasis will be the new normal of Hong Kong politics. But maybe not.
In such difficult times, the ancient Romans adopted a policy derided by a contemporary writer as ‘bread and circuses’, the practice of appeasing the poor with free wheat and public entertainments. A modern Hong Kong equivalent would entail providing increased support and resources for the poor and the promotion of cultural events and entertainments. A strategy not without merits.
The former could provide relief for some of the most deprived in the city while the latter would encourage tourism. The West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), when finally it is finished, would provide a valuable platform.
Apart from the snail-like pace of the WKCD’s progress, the project has been hampered by a succession of chieftains, often with impeccable international backgrounds of cultural management and achievement. The search for an appropriately local figure has not been successful, until now.
The ideal candidate has emerged: barrister Alan Hoo, a constitutional expert – like Benny Tai of Hong Kong University – and a stalwart of the pro-Beijing bloc. To reinforce these splendid credentials he has recently revealed a streak of comedic genius.
While seeking to resolve the constitutional dilemma of Chinese border guards operating under Chinese jurisdiction at the West Kowloon Terminus of the Hong Kong Guangzhou express rail link, he proposed siting the border crossing underground. Hong Kong’s jurisdiction, he explained, was limited to the HKSAR’s surface area. The rest belonged to China.
The prospect of border guards at MTR stations, the requirement that users of underground car parks venturing lower than floor B2 should thereafter drive on the right; or that users of tall buildings should carry passports to venture higher than the 30th floor, had Hong Kong convulsed with laughter.
As WKCD’s leader he could headline the opening night of the largest venue as a stand-up comic under the banner ‘Hoo’s a Hoot?! Who then will dare to say the pro-Beijing bloc lacks talent?