立場新聞 Stand News

The real “systemic problem” revealed by the Cambridge Nursing Home incident

2015/6/9 — 20:10

劍橋護老院 (資料圖片)

劍橋護老院 (資料圖片)

At a recent Legislative Council meeting, Chief Executive CY Leung was asked about the alleged elderly abuse at Cambridge Nursing Home (劍橋護老院) and generally about the long-standing problem of abuse in private elderly homes.

Remarkably, Leung blamed the predicament on the “systemic problem” of land shortage. That is, Leung shirked all responsibility and put the blame on resistance from the so-called “opposition camp” to the Government's proposed change in land use.

The problem is indeed systemic. But the genuine problem does not lie in the shortage of land but in the lack of democracy in our political system.

廣告

Why do seniors need to stay in private homes? Why aren’t more public elderly services provided?

The Social Welfare Department's figures show that, as at the end of March 2015, there were 32,351 people waiting for subsidised elderly home places. In each of the last few years, an average of about 5,000 people in the queue died before they could get their place – highlighting the serious shortage of subsidised elderly home places. Families who cannot take care of the elderly at home because of work or other reasons, and families and elderly living alone who cannot afford private nurses, have no other choices but to turn to private homes even though, notoriously, the quality of such homes vary enormously.

廣告

The shortage of land supply in Hong Kong is indeed one of the reasons for the high cost of private homes, which indirectly causes the wide discrepancy in quality.

However, why are there sufficient land and resources for building the high-speed railway (高鐵) and the third runway (三跑), but not for subsidising elderly homes? If the so-called “opposition camp” can stop the Government from changing the use of land, how could the HK$66.9 billion budget for building the high-speed railway be passed despite very strong opposition?

According to calculations done by an online news site, the HK$141.5 billion budgeted for the third runway is enough to subsidise 65,200 elderly home places for 10 years; while  HK$25 billion over-expenditure for the high-speed railway (i.e. not even counting the original budgeted amount) is equivalent to 10 years’ expenditure for 11,523 subsidised places. So why does the Government lavish public money on the third runway and the high-speed railway instead of elderly services?

How to decide public money usage and social resource distribution? Who decides? Why?

Under the current system, the Government is the only one who can introduce bills or motions in Legco relating to public expenditure. Most Government bills only need a simple majority of votes from attending Legco members to be passed. By contrast, bills or motions introduced by Legco members can only be passed if a majority of both groups (legislators elected by geographical constituencies and legislators elected by functional constituencies) vote in favour.

The setting of elderly care policy and the subsidising of elderly homes, which both involve public money, are led by the Government. Even if any Legco member considers that the Government's elderly services bill or motion is inadequate and proposes an amendment to increase resource allocation, such amendment will not be passed easily.

So why does the Government not devote more resources to elderly services and allocate more land and resources to increase the number and quality of elderly homes? When the Government sets policies, how does it decide on the distribution of resources? Why does the Government neglect elderly services? Why does the Government think that building the high-speed railway and the third runway are worthier of land and resources than elderly services? What entitles it to make such a decision? What empowers it to have the power to control social resources?

How is the Government formed? How is the Chief Executive selected? What can the people do if they are not happy with the Government’s performance?

The answer in the case of CY Leung is the 689 votes he received from a ‘small-circle’ election. In turn, principal officials are nominated and/or appointed by the Chief Executive. In other words, the Election Committee's small number of members empowers the Chief Executive to control social resources.

Under such a system, the formation of the Government and policies involves little participation from the people. Even if the people are not happy with the Chief Executive’s performance, there is no way they can change the Chief Executive. If the Chief Executive wishes to entrench his position, he only needs to pander to the Election Committee. The welfare of  disadvantaged groups has little impact on the election prospects of the Chief Executive. In such circumstances, how can we hope the Chief Executive to improve livelihood issues, when such issues have no effect on his political position?

Even if the current electoral reform proposal based on the 31 August NPCSC decision is passed, the election platform of the Chief Executive candidates must first satisfy the 1,200 Nominating Committee members before one could be elected. How are those 1,200 Nominating Committee members selected? If one wants to be a Nominating Committee member, whom does one need to please? Under the 31 August decision, what is the top priority of the Nominating Committee members: the interest of the public, of your own sector, of yourself, or of the Central Government?

The real systemic problem: lack of democracy

In the end, the real systemic problem underlying Hong Kong’s livelihood issues is the undemocratic political system. Without democracy, the powers that be do not need to be accountable to the people and, naturally, act according to their own preference and interest.

At this critical moment in the debate on electoral reform, some people may wish the controversy to end as soon as possible so that the society can focus its energy on livelihood issues. But without democracy and genuine universal suffrage, any discussion of livelihood issues will be in vain.

How should Hong Kong decide on the electoral reform? The answer is crystal clear.

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