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It’s not John Lee’s job to fix Hong Kong, it’ll take all of us

HONG KONG’S FORMER Chief Secretary of Administration John Lee Ka-chiu is most likely to become the next chief executive of the special administrative region. As expected, the Hong Kong public is abuzz with expectations for the new government. But what about the government’s expectations for the public? As John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

So, as Kennedy’s call to action implored Americans to perform their civic duty, I implore the people of Hong Kong to do the same.

On the whole, Hong Kong people’s sense of civic duty is shaky at best. Civic education and the sense of civic duty are poor (as reflected by our low vaccine rates), conscription to national service is nonexistent, and our tax rates are low compared with most countries.


And when given another opportunity to demonstrate their civic-mindedness, Hong Kong people have missed an opportunity to do better. Now that the city has logged over 1,200,000 cases since the pandemic began, Queen Elizabeth Hospital has become a dedicated facility for COVID-19 patients .

Following the end of the SARS outbreak in 2003, it became obvious that there was a need to enhance and expand the infectious-disease facilities in the public hospital system, and one hospital was identified as a result. However, widespread objections from nearby residents and district councils scuttled this critical proposal.

And sadly, this was not the only significant case of nimbyism. Drug rehabilitation centers, waste landfills and public rental housing projects have been halted or delayed one after another over the years because of neighborhood objections. But simultaneously, Hong Kong residents are crying out for more of these facilities — as long as they are not built in their backyards.

NIMBY stands for Not In My Back Yard, and is a term used by people who acknowledge that facilities are needed but want them in other neighborhoods. The image above comes from San Francisco, and shows objections to a self-cleaning toilet facility. Picture: Wikimedia Commons


Over the course of the pandemic, it has become more apparent that the city is in dire need of more doctors in addition to more medical facilities.

At present, we have 15,000 registered medical practitioners serving 7.5 million people; this gives us a ratio of two doctors for every 1,000 people. Sadly, this ratio is lower than the World Health Organization’s benchmark. Comparatively, Singapore has 2.5 doctors per 1,000; the US boasts more than three doctors per 1,000 people.

To make matters worse, there is an imbalance of public and private doctors. Out of the 15,000 total physicians in Hong Kong, only 40 percent are based in the public sector but treat over 80 per cent of the population. Meanwhile, 20 per cent of the city’s total population who can afford private healthcare have their pick of over 7,000 doctors.

Public and private partnerships have a proven track record of addressing shortfalls in medical manpower, so I must implore the Hospital Authority and other relevant authorities to address this issue as soon as possible.

Hong Kong does not have enough doctors. Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy.


In the long run, we will certainly need homegrown talent to staff up our medical sector. But in the short term, it is far too costly and time-consuming to invest HK$8 million (US$1 million) per medical student over a seven-year period. This means importing doctors who have qualified in certain overseas jurisdictions that are on par with our local doctors. While not a permanent solution, it is certainly an effective way to address the short-term shortage.

As a medical doctor, I have personally come across objections from my professional colleagues — and expectedly so — so I also implore Hong Kong medical professionals to see past their personal considerations, keep an open mind, and consider what is at stake in Hong Kong society at large.

And let us not forget the 10,000 traditional Chinese medical practitioners we have at the people’s service, who would certainly be a useful supplement to alleviate the overwhelming workload of our public doctors. Traditional Chinese medicine has played its part in helping COVID-19 patients. While some might see traditional Chinese medicine as a challenge to Western-trained doctors, we must look beyond the professional divide and not underestimate the societal value of traditional Chinese medical practitioners.


Finally, it is essential to give honorable mention to the innumerable healthcare personnel who have come from the mainland to support us. Some local residents have been hostile about their presence in Hong Kong, so I would encourage these opposing voices to show their gratitude to the visitors and support the Hong Kong government, which invited them and gave them the facility to practice here.

From July 1 onwards, the political landscape in Hong Kong will change, and with it possibly some aspects of the city itself. The deep-rooted societal issues like our widening wealth gap, low minimum wage, sky-high property prices, and low profit tax rate are just some of the fundamental issues that will need to be addressed by the new government.


If the new government does take bold decisions as expected by many whose hearts are in the right place for Hong Kong, private business interests and other such stakeholders will certainly be affected. So I am also calling on these stakeholders to refrain from objecting and consider the wider needs and the longer-term interests of this city. They should in fact work alongside the government.

If these businesses and stakeholders continue to look only after their own vested interests instead of the wider Hong Kong interest, nothing will get done and nothing will change for the better in Hong Kong.

“I implore the people of Hong Kong to also put aside self-interest and start thinking in terms of performing their civic duty.”


Finally, I implore the people of Hong Kong to also put aside self-interest and start thinking in terms of performing their civic duty. If we want to rebuild the post-pandemic Hong Kong in the next few years, we need to give all the support that our government deserves to make things happen.

I recently read an article in which John Lee aptly analogized himself as the conductor and the government as the orchestra. And I will extend his analogy by saying that every Hong Kong resident is a member of this orchestra, which means that synchronicity can only be achieved if every member of the orchestra performs to the same sheet music and to the best of their ability.

Once at the helm, Lee is expected to revamp the innate culture of the government by making it more results-driven in policy implementation. At present, the government machinery is heavily rigidified by procedures.

To be more effective in policy formulation and implementation, we need to trim certain procedures. I have no doubt Lee understands that procedures are important, but government decisions and actions should be results-oriented.

Finally, I will end on an appropriate quote by President Xi Jinping: “As officials, we must do our best for the welfare of the people to better their lives. Otherwise, we should be ashamed. This means everyone at all levels from top to bottom must unite to get things done.”

The author is a medical doctor and president of Wisdom Hong Kong, a think tank. This piece also appears in the China Daily.

Image at the top by Aleksandar Tomovic/ Unsplash

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