Ills of Hong Kong’s socialising culture distract government officials from real work

Asia World
Our officials across all levels of government work tirelessly on behalf of their constituents. In addition to their heavy administrative load, they generally make a great effort to meet and listen to the views of as many people as possible.

Demands on officials in some portfolios are greater than for others, and many events occur in the evenings or on weekends, so their intense schedules of social activity also diminish the time they can spend with their families or on maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

The sheer number of such events can affect how much time officers have to conduct their duties. Herein lies the problem.

Hong Kong has a plethora of government and non-government organisations active across the community, from district-level groups to professional and fraternal ones, all with causes to promote, and which can be regarded as a reflection of the openness within our society.

Many of these groups support the policies and positions of the government. They aim to convey government views, gather public support, and engage in dialogue with different parts of the community. They often organise events, campaigns and rallies to support government positions.

Some help shape important policymaking by providing input, recommendations and feedback on issues ranging from care for older people to education and affordable housing. Many have direct communication channels with government officials, allowing them to express their views and contribute to policy discussions.


In most cases, they work hard to ensure the government’s agenda is supported and implemented through the legislative process. They often serve as a bridge between their constituencies and government. Inevitably, they all vie for attention or recognition at some official level to enhance their organisation’s credibility and the issues they are promoting.

Wong Tai Sin district officer Steve Wong Chi-wah (centre) was criticised for attending a lavish banquet of more than 500 guests thrown in his honour on August 24. Photo: Handout
But there is seemingly an increasing number of such organisations and social events. There is significant overlap as well, as many individuals participate in multiple organisations. These organisations frequently hold annual events, inviting government officials to attend or preside over their ceremonies. Many can be wasteful of official time and unnecessary.
In Chinese society, the concept of “giving face” is highly significant and deeply ingrained in social interactions. It refers to the preserving and enhancing of a person’s reputation, dignity and social standing and is intrinsically tied to respecting authority and acknowledging social hierarchies.

It involves deference to individuals of higher status, such as elders, senior colleagues or government officials. The concept of “face” is closely linked to reputation, personal connections and networks, and can bring benefits and opportunities in one’s personal and professional life.


Increasingly, the extra demands on official schedules are spent supporting the same organisations, people and causes. Yet officials’ primary function in these challenging times must be to develop and implement the economic and social policies required to give Hong Kong a competitive edge in a complex environment brought about by global economic uncertainty and increasing competition from our regional neighbours.
RTHK host Joyce Yeung at Dr Witman Hung Wai-man’s 53rd birthday party in January 2022. Hung, a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress, was criticised for holding a big birthday bash in the midst of a fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the city. Photo: Handout

Addressing and ending the socialising culture is crucial, mainly when it involves the same individuals in multiple organisations. This practice not only perpetuates a sense of exclusivity but also leads to wastage in engagements. When officials keep on interacting with the same people, it limits the opportunity for fresh perspectives, diverse networks and innovative collaborations.


To foster growth and progress, officials must broaden their horizons and actively engage with new people. Meeting a broader range of people helps the exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences, and can lead to a richer and more inclusive decision-making process. By breaking away from the cycle of repetitive interactions, officials can discover untapped resources, talent and expertise.

Pomp and flattery never a good look for Hong Kong’s politicians

Encouraging officials to explore new connections and build relationships beyond their familiar circles can enhance transparency, accountability and fairness in governance. It promotes a more dynamic and inclusive environment where diverse voices can be heard. This, in turn, contributes to a more robust and effective governance system that serves the needs and aspirations of a broader spectrum of society.


The critical, overriding focus for government officials must be to spend time on developing and implementing the policies within their portfolios that meet the needs of everyone in Hong Kong.

They need to spend time shaping the policies required to protect Hong Kong’s position as a leading financial centre and retain our regional competitive edge.

Bernard Chan is a Hong Kong businessman and a former Executive Council convenor