Thursday, April 16, 2009

Money Matters

By Chip Tsao | published Apr 16, 2009

Is it value for money? Eyebrows have been raised over the exuberant salaries and benefits enjoyed by senior SAR government officials. An “undersecretary” in Hong Kong earns more than $230,000 per month, even though their job consists largely, in the eyes of the public, of wining and dining at Yung Kee Restaurant or the Jockey Club while explaining government policies to businessmen and reporters. It is no surprise that, given the ten-year track record of the so-called “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”, some people have started questioning why an SAR undersecretary, let alone the chief executive, earns more than the British Prime Minister, who at present receives 127,334 sterling pounds annually in addition to a salary of 60,277 pounds as a Member of Parliament—about a pathetic $200,000 per month at the current exchange rate.

The salary scale of Hong Kong senior government officials is an anachronism. It is part of the so-called “through-train” agreed between China and the former colonial British, stipulated in Article 100 of the Basic Law, that “public servants in Hong Kong government departments may retain their seniority with pay, allowances, benefits and conditions of service no less favorable than before.” This means that government officials, while promoting “patriotic education” and introducing “mother-tongue teaching” to Hong Kong pupils and their parents, can quietly send their own children to for education in public schools and universities in Britain on Hong Kong taxpayers’ money. They are still reaping the attractive remuneration packages once offered to British colonial officials on expatriate terms.

Such terms were meant to provide “hardship compensation” in the old days. When a British civil servant was dispatched to a remote South Pacific island to be governor or police chief, he had the misfortune of being exiled for a few years from civilization. The attractive packages were a token of pity for the governor who wasted his life drinking his afternoon tea with a rifle under a coconut tree, under constant threat of a native rebellion, listening to chimpanzees squeal in the jungle instead of talking with learned friends talk about topics like Darwinism in a common room of the Gentlemen’s Club in London.

The SAR government has changed the red color of the post office and the police uniform to show China they are being politically correct and striking off the memories of the colonial past. But as far as money is concerned, there is reason for them to be selectively nostalgic. Earning more than Gordon Brown or even Barack Obama puts you under the feel-good illusion that you are taller than these guys.

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