Election ’19: Randy Yu, the man for the status quo

If you’re looking for a politician to represent Hong Kong’s political moment you could hardly do worse than Randy Yu.

A surveyor and property executive by occupation, Yu, a resident of Tuen Mun, was helicoptered into the Lantau seat and then the vice-chairmanship of the Islands District Council in 2015.

He is assumed to be running for chairmanship should he win tomorrow.

But while he may have been a district councillor these past four years, his main political role, and the source of his power, is his close connection to that uniquely Hong Kong outfit, the Heung Yee Kuk.

Yu describes himself as an independent and while he has no party affiliation he has married into the clan of the late Heung Yee Kuk strongman Lau Wongfat. The current kuk boss, Kenneth Lau, is his brother-in-law.

The kuk represents some 700 village rural committees and in its own telling protects traditional rights and culture.

But for most Hong Kongers the kuk, the rural committees and the indigenous house policy they defend are emblematic of the culture of entitlement and cronyism that fuels their rage.

In a city with the world’s most unaffordable housing, the rural committees monopolise hundreds of hectares of valuable land. No wonder that 42%  of Hong Kong want to see the small house policy abolished.

But the kuk is powerful – it has its own seat in Legco and its ‘rights’ are written into the Basic Law. Along with its opposition to modern democratic practice these make it a natural ally for a government that is a coalition of narrow vested interests.

Randy Yu’s main job is to preserve these privileges.

In person he is an affable fellow and it is impossible to imagine him, say, high-fiving a triad boss.

He has a track record in business environmental organisations, and was active in the revitalisation of the Tai O Heritage Hotel.  There is no reason to doubt his personal journey, as revealed to the SCMP, of wanting to put something back into the community.

But his four years as district councillor seem to have passed without a trace. It is difficult to find something, anything that he has achieved.

Lantau News has on several occasions invited Yu to share his district council track record, but he did not respond.

Councillors may have limited power, yet most sitting members are able to point to, say, a better bus service or new street lights. But even Randy Yu seems to have trouble identifying his successes.

His election material cites the Mui Wo sewage treatment works, for example. But the contract for that project was issued nine months before he was elected.

Why waste time on people’s problems?

Lantau News asked the local community, via a Facebook page, of their interactions with Yu. None of the nearly 5000 members could recall Yu helping to solve any problems.

One woman, whose family member was badly injured in a fall near the ferry pier, said she had asked for help but received no reply from Yu’s office and ended up dealing with the government department herself.

The most likely explanation for all this is that Yu suffers from the malaise that afflicts the city: a lack of responsiveness that comes with a lack of accountability.

Regardless of what district councillors actually do, rural parties have a huge patronage network and a rusted-on supporter base. Why waste time on other people’s problems?

As an activist from another island community puts it: “The establishment members have a huge base of support – they don’t bother doing anything even for the local Chinese community.”

That is the source of Hong Kong’s crisis. Since 1997, one leader after another has been unable to tackle the city’s big issues – housing, inequality, air quality, democratic reform –  because these would mean confronting the vested interests that keep them in power.

The current political impasse shows Hong Kong badly needs change. For all his good intentions, Randy Yu’s mission is to ensure that everything stays the same.  

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