The most common criticism against the SAR government these days is it is “forfeiting” to the police its responsibility to tackle the insanity that has engulfed our city for over half a year while it just sits on its hands, doing nothing more than issuing statements of condemnation. However, the forthcoming budget speech should provide an opportunity for the government to win back some degree of public confidence in its determination to end the chaos that has inflicted significant losses across many sectors of our economy, not to mention severely disrupting our daily lives on some days. I would like to offer some suggestions for our political leaders’ consideration. They must be implemented with the bold resolution that such radical measures deserve. They could be real game-changers.
One: A special compensation fund should be set up to compensate for the financial losses of shops, restaurants and banks that were vandalized by the so-called “protesters”. The vandalism was willful criminal damage and should be treated as such. These black-shirted vandals should not be let off scot-free by their democratic pretensions. Their victims deserve compensation because the government has failed in its primary duty to protect the citizenry’s property, given that such acts of indiscriminate destruction have been occurring regularly and on a predictable basis. The culprits must be prosecuted with the full force of the law.
Every effort should be made to seek damages or redemption from the culprits if we are to live up to our acclaimed reputation as a jurisdiction of rule of law, even if it takes a bankruptcy order for life. The same should apply to those innocent citizens who got beaten up by the blackshirts and their cohorts for simply harboring a different political view or because they are mainland residents. They deserve to be looked after by the Social Welfare Department and financially compensated for any loss due to injury.
Two: Additional funds should be allocated to equip our police with the most effective nonlethal riot control tools, such as tasers, which can quickly bring down a belligerent rioter without causing injury, thus preventing a charged situation from escalating. At the same time, the Reward and Special Service Fund should be enhanced to provide monetary rewards for information on riot-related offenses. In order to nip anti-social plots in the bud, the Special Branch should be brought back. It should also be tasked with investigating foreign funding for the riots. Financial investigation experts should be recruited to trace the foreign funds received by political parties, scholars, journalists, student groups and NGOs. Positive political vetting should be reintroduced for all recruitment and promotion of civil servants.
The ISD should modernize by hiring experts to wage the publicity and psychological warfare against its inflexible political opposition and critics who are not amenable to facts and reason. In this day and age, not taking advantage of social media will doom us to losing this crucial battle for the hearts and minds of the people
Three: The Department of Justice should be given extra funding support to recruit more in-house prosecutors to cope with the huge case load of rioting offenses. At the same time, such recruitment should reduce or totally eliminate the need for outside counsels to act as prosecutors. In the last year alone, 1,349 cases were briefed out by the Department of Justice to private counsels to prosecute. Such a colonial practice should be abolished, particularly now that there is no guarantee on the political neutrality of the outside counsel and their loyalty to the SAR government. The current practice also reduces opportunities for in-house training for public prosecutors.
Four: Similarly, the judiciary should have its manpower substantially beefed up. It clearly needs a hefty injection of funding to hire many more magistrates and judges to deal with the upcoming rioting-related trials. It must also stop appointing private counsels as acting judges as they risk having a conflict of interest with defense lawyers. They can hardly be trusted to conduct a fair trial objectively. They are not required to take an oath of allegiance to the SAR government and the Basic Law. It makes a mockery of our justice system when you see in the same courtroom the presiding judge, the prosecutor and the defense counsel are all private counsels sharing the same or neighboring chambers, and all paid for by the taxpayers. They are all probably “yellow” as well!
Five: The Legal Aid Department’s budget should be substantially reduced to force the department to tighten its vetting process to end the current abuse of the legal aid system. More in-house lawyers should be recruited to deal with legal aid cases, thus avoiding the need to engage expensive private counsels to handle legal aid cases. Should outside counsel be required, a flat rate should be introduced. The department should look to the UK for guidance on tightening its legal aid system.
Six: If the government is serious about winning back the hearts and minds of the people, it must privatize Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). Over the years, RTHK has not even bothered to hide its blatant anti-establishment posture. The recent complaint letter from the police to the director of broadcasting put this into sharp relief. To understand this aberration, you only need to read social media and be shocked by the public outcry against this government station and demanding its closure! It’s about time RTHK is cut loose and let it swim or sink. It’s painful to watch a government-funded radio station attacking the government that is keeping it afloat! The taxpayers would not be amused!
As part of a program to strengthen the government’s control over publicly-funded media, it must take over the control of two radio stations and two TV stations and place their management under the Information Services Department (ISD). The two radio stations can be turned into around-the-clock news channel and a traffic channel respectively with the two TV stations transformed into two stations each specializing in news and sports (for local and mainland sports) respectively.
The ISD should modernize by hiring experts to wage the publicity and psychological warfare against its inflexible political opposition and critics who are not amenable to facts and reason. In this day and age, not taking advantage of social media will doom us to losing this crucial battle for the hearts and minds of the people.
Finally: The government should re-evaluate spending huge sums of money sponsoring university studies in the light of discovering that so many of the students turned out to be anti-government rioters. Perhaps a pilot program can be introduced to reduce the sponsored places in local universities and offer them instead to local students who wish to pursue their university education on the mainland. Since the cost of sponsoring studies on the mainland is much lower than it is in Hong Kong, more students will benefit from the same amount of funding. What’s even more important is that this would allow more Hong Kong students to get an in-depth understanding of their motherland, thus preventing them from becoming easy prey in attempts to turn them into anti-establishment agitators.
The author is an adviser of Our Hong Kong Foundation, council member of the Chinese Society of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, and a retired deputy commissioner of the ICAC.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS