Ship Ahoy!

Unkind critics – and there are many such -- might claim that Hong Kong’s ship of state has already sunk, virtually without trace.

Even friends of the administration, among whose dwindling number I still count myself, would have to concede that it seems at times to have become becalmed.

Well it’s our city and our government and what true friends do at such times is step forward to show their support by offering positive suggestions about what to do next. Yes, I am going to propose an action plan. Now I realize there are some who do not like the word "action" or its partner "plan", let alone putting the two together in the same sentence, but as friend and foe alike surely agree I am not one to duck the unpopular, so here goes.

First, the government must submit a formal written report to Beijing about local reaction to the ruling by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on political reform. Yes of course they already know. Hell, thanks to the international media billions of people in every corner of the planet know. But that is not the point. It was the one sensible thing the government offered in the recent debate with the students and even though the latter did not accept it as sufficient, nonetheless it would be the right thing to do to set the record straight.

Secondly, the government must publish a green paper setting out the options for reform of the legislative council elections in 2016 and 2020. It must state an absolute commitment to scrap corporate voting by the time of the second election, and promise to work with as many functional constituencies as possible to achieve it for some of them in time for the first. It must set thresholds for the minimum number of voters that will enable individual FCs to survive failing which they will lose their seat. It must promise a further review after 2020, and state categorically that at that time outright abolition will be one of the options.

Having sorted out the FCs, the government should make some modest sensible proposals for reform of the geographic constituencies. The idea recently floated of pairing up the 18 districts so that we end up with nine constituencies instead of the present five has a ring to it.

Third, the government should publish a green paper on options for election of the chief executive for 2017 et seq. Even though we are stuck with a 1,200 member Nominating Committee, divided into four broad sectors of 300 each, nonetheless there is much scope for meaningful reform within those sectors, and with the way the representatives are chosen. Corporate voting must be gone of course and as many as possible of the members should be elected by respectably sized groups.

Fourth, the government needs to take the lead in getting the Legislative Council and its committees working smoothly again. The trouble began when the pro administration Members did not respect the tradition of sharing out the positions of chairman and vice chairman of the various committees in a fair way, but instead hogged most of the key posts for themselves. The pan democrats responded by waiting until the last minute and suddenly all putting their names down for membership the Public Works and Establishment sub committees of the Finance Committee. Having by way of this skillful ambush secured the chairmanship of both, they then began to play games with the agenda to give low priority to items which the administration thought deserved precedence. The government struck back by exercising its right to withdraw all the items preferred by the pan dems. Oh what a lovely war! But the end result is that the people’s business is not getting done.

Someone needs to knock heads together here and bring us back to a sensible compromise. Perhaps the head of the chief executive’s office, whose role at present seems to consist of standing behind his boss looking sheepish, could stir himself.

The government could rescue the agenda by withdrawing all its seven preferred items from PWSC and submitting a revised agenda of two: one supported by the pan democrats and one of its own priorities. Once those two had been dealt with it could put forward four items for the agenda of the next meeting, two from the pan dems list, two from its own, and so on.

But what we need most of all is a fair wind. We need to remember that Hong Kong is above all else the city that works, the place that gets things done. If we have forgotten that, then indeed out home will sink without trace and who will risk their own life to save it?