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Put gov't officials under pressure
BY Zou Hanru (China Daily) Updated:2005-08-12 10:06

  "Guan bu liao sheng," or government officials having to work hard for their pay, is a term nowhere to be found in Chinese dictionaries.

  It sounds like an antonym of "min bu liao sheng," which means "ordinary people have a hard time making a living."

  But "guan bu liao sheng" seems to be becoming a reality in Hong Kong, according to a senior official of the special administrative region's government.

  A more accurate, and faithful, paraphrasing of the new term should perhaps be: Government officials are feeling distraught and distressed serving an ever-more demanding but less-deferential community.

  The official made the observation to a media representative in the hope that the press would help disseminate information on what's happening within the realm of his portfolio. He may also have wanted a fair appraisal of his and his department's performance.

  His eagerness to present his side of the story to the media is all too understandable, for the press is, after all, one of the major forces making life difficult for government officials.

  The Hong Kong media became more outspoken and critical of the government after the return to the motherland in 1997. They were, it seems, in a hurry to taste, to the fullest extent, press freedom that had been suppressed under a colonial government for over 100 years.

  And they seemed to have assumed the role of ensuring political accountability and checks-and-balances, keeping an eye on public officials and challenging them constantly.

  Joining the blame-game are some politicians and lawmakers, who are deriving great pleasure from summoning government officials to the legislature and grilling them.

  A handful of the former, obedient and complaisant during the colonial era, seem to be the most aggressive and defiant in their attitude towards the government.

  But by far, the greatest pressure has come from members of the public. A growing sense of importance as taxpayers has made their expectations soar higher than ever before about the services they are entitled to.

  The zero tolerance of the public for unsatisfactory or faulty services has sent government officials scrambling to set things right, both technically and politically.

  In a way, "guan bu liao sheng" reflects social progress the more a society advances, the better the quality of services its people will demand. Any student of the market knows how important efficiency is and how demanding people can be in an advanced economy. Serving the people then acquires an added dimension.

  China realized the importance of serving the people thousands of years ago. Meng Zi, known to the West as Mencius (370-286 BC), was one of the first to declare: "The people are the most important element in a nation; land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the least."

  More than 2,000 years later, Chinese revolutionary leader and statesman Sun Yat-sen put forward the Three Principles of the People: The People's Nationalism; The People's Rights and The People's Livelihood.

  Late Chairman Mao Zedong's slogan, "Serving the People," changed all the established concepts about governance. The founder of the People's Republic of China propounded that service to the people was its own reward.

  "Yi ren wei ben" (putting people first) is what China's fourth generation leadership, headed by Party General Secretary and President Hu Jintao, has pressed for. Hu has exhorted members of the ruling party and government officials to "exercise power for the people, care about the people and seek benefits for the people."

  Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang's "people-based" governance, in response to the central government's call, now seems to have put further pressure on some of the already "distraught" officials.

  Serving the people in Hong Kong can both be a rewarding and painful experience, particularly in a society as pluralistic where individuals or groups may differ in determining the precedence of one over the other.

  Trying to please all and sundry is not the best way to rule. Yielding to demands that supersede the greater public interest only makes it politically incorrect and adds to the anxiety of the civil service.

  A good government must draw a line between what is right and what is not. Its officials should have the courage of their convictions.

  China, now a fully-fledged member of the World Trade Organization, boasts the fastest growing economy in the world. Slowly but certainly, the harvest of economic benefits will spread across the country. The lifestyle of the Chinese people has already undergone a radical change and with it their demands. What was a luxury 20 years ago is now a necessity for most.

  People in Hong Kong have already travelled that road. Hence, their demanding nature.

  With a fast-expanding middle-class and more people starting to pay taxes on the mainland, government officials will, sooner or later, be subjected to the same level of stress being experienced by their Hong Kong peers.

  It is now time for them to ask themselves a question, clear and loud: Are we prepared?

  



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