Innovating in the dark: Anonymous HK Government departments duck responsibility for Uber statements

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Who’s on first? How are innovators to be lured to Hong Kong when they don’t know who to talk to?

The Uber controversy remains far from clear. Two days after the surprising arrest of five Uber drivers (two more on the following day) and three interns working in the car-hailing services provider’s Hong Kong office, the Hong Kong Government issued a press release, in Chinese only, concerning innovation in car-hailing services. However, the move is not helping much either.

In the press release, the Government stated that while it strives to promote innovation and technological development and is open to the use of technology and mobile apps in car-hailing services, such applications should comply with related laws and regulations. Uber itself was not specifically addressed in the press release.

While the statement is straightforward enough, it is also ambiguous as to which bureau or department (B/D) was accountable for the release. It also named no specific official as to whom the “Government spokesperson” was.

HT called up the Information Services Department to ask which B/D should be contacted for follow-up. The information officer explained the press release was jointly issued by several B/Ds, but refused to categorically state which government division(s) should be held accountable. Instead, the officer vaguely suggested three possibilities, namely InvestHK, the Housing & Transport Bureau (HTB) and the Transport Department.

In follow-up calls to the three aforementioned bodies, InvestHK replied that it was not involved in the press release while the HTB stated that both HTB and the Transport Department could be contacted for follow-up questions concerning certain parts of the statement. The Transport Department failed to respond to HT’s enquiries before the article was published.

That the Government has failed to appear accountable for its actions has been commonplace to the public lately. But for innovative businesses eyeing Hong Kong as a potential market, nothing could be more discouraging than an ambiguous regulatory regime which is reluctant to make clear who holds responsibility.