Men In Black

In the "Men in Black" film series, secret agents keep under control a miscellany of misbehaving aliens who have settled on earth. Members of the public who happen to be present at policing actions are flashed with a special light which wipes out all memory of the event they have witnessed. This induced amnesia is deemed necessary because it is feared public knowledge of the alien presence would create panic in the community.

We now know following the recent visit to Hong Kong of Vice Premier Li Keqiang, believed by many to be the likely successor to Wen Jiabao as Premier, that Hong Kong has its own unit of Men in Black. A local resident going about his lawful business in the public housing estate where he lives was spirited away out of sight of the illustrious visitor so that his t-shirt, which carried a message about the events of June 4 1989 in Beijing, would not be seen. The intervention was apparently undertaken by persons not in uniform, but similarly dressed in dark clothing.

Unfortunately for Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai Hung, his men had either forgotten to bring their special amnesia device or were slow to deploy it. As a result the whole incident was filmed by the media, broadcast on the news and seen by virtually the entire community. So the cat is well and truly out of the bag.

Hong Kong people fully accept the need to provide adequate security for important visitors and guests. But they also respect the right of their fellow citizens to express their political viewpoint in a peaceful way. The idea that 3000 police personnel – one tenth of the entire active strength – needed to be deployed to protect someone in one of the world’s safest cities struck most people as an absurd overreaction. And the idea that such a visitor should only see "nice" things and should be shielded from dissenting views is – well, alien.

Contrast the vigour of this police action with the widespread indifference shown towards the kind of illegal conduct which directly impacts the lives of ordinary people on a daily basis.

For example the illegal parking situation in some areas is effectively out of control. Double parking is now prevalent outside Princes Building for much of the day and even treble parking can sometimes be seen outside the old Legco building. Illegal parking on double yellow lines is common in Ice House Street. So many vehicles wait in Arbuthnot Road that it can be difficult for public buses to get through. The words "Vehicles waiting will be prosecuted without warning" can be and are interpreted to mean "park all day at your leisure" along Queen's Road East. The situation is so bad outside Hopewell Centre that vehicles with a genuine need to stop briefly for pick up/drop off purposes are frequently forced to use the first traffic lane, hence squeezing everyone else into a single lane. Once again buses are the worst affected victims.

Is this making a mountain out of a molehill? On one level, perhaps it is, but on another level the implications are socially unhealthy. For the people engaged in the illegal activity are invariably the better off, or employees on their behalf.

And the people whose journey is delayed unnecessarily are almost always the less well off.

Every time a packed bus misses the traffic light because of improper obstruction in the road ahead, the hundred plus ordinary passengers delayed on the way to work or school can look down on the offending Mercedes and BMWs and draw their own conclusions about equality before the law and impartiality of enforcement.

And if the view gains currency that wealth puts the holders above the law and only the poor do not enjoy similar immunity, then cynicism is going to be rife, and spill over into other areas of public policy debate with unhelpful consequences.

How about it, Andy? Could we spare a few of the men in black to clear the traffic black spots? Flash device optional.