Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:47pm


Census department's population projections begin to wobble

We see that the Census and Statistics Department has scaled back its population growth targets. This is not a surprise. The department's efforts at forecasting population growth have been lamentable. Clearly they are not as wide of the mark say as Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah's budget forecasts but they have been serious enough in the past to cause some economic embarrassment.

Projections for population growth in the western New Territories in the 1990s proved to be woefully wide of the mark. This led to some optimistic projections for the KCR's West Rail Line and subsequent disappointment at the losses it racked up in its early days. Interestingly, the department has been employed recently to support the government proposal to produce another 1,500 hectares of land to support a projected population growth of 1.8 million by 2039. It announced in March an ambitious and unpopular plan to earmark 25 waterfront sites for reclamation.

Yesterday's revision by the department lowers the projected population growth by 26 per cent. That's quite a deviation. In addition, the department's forecasts for immigration are way above the average for the past 10 years of 16,500. It is anticipating net immigration of about 45,000 a year over the next 17 years. If they are wrong, there's going to be a lot of unnecessary reclamation in some of Hong Kong's more attractive areas.

More French than Mandarin

Mike Smith, the CEO of ANZ Bank and former CEO of HSBC's Asian business, caused a bit of a stir at a forum in Hong Kong yesterday. He said culture and education were important to Australia-China relations, adding that French is the most widely taught foreign language in Australia and perhaps it is time for it to be replaced by Mandarin, given that we are in the Asian century.

We had always thought that Asian languages were widely taught in Australia and this was confirmed after a chat with Professor Joseph Lo Bianco, professor of language and literacy education at Melbourne University. He tells us that Asian languages have been widely taught in Australia for the past 20 years. Government programmes over a number of years have promoted the learning of four trade-related languages: Japanese, Mandarin, Indonesian, and Korean. As a result, Japanese had overtaken French by 1990 as the most widely studied foreign language in Australia. According to Lo Bianco's paper 'Second Languages and Australian Schooling', the most popular languages at primary school are, in order, Italian, Japanese, Indonesian, French, German, and Mandarin.

The same is true for secondary schools except that Japanese is more popular than Italian. The paper notes that while there was considerable interest in Mandarin it had by far the worst attrition rate at 94 per cent. The difficulty of learning Mandarin apparently is just too dispiriting. So the tone of Smith's comments seem incorrect. Australia has put considerable effort into encouraging Asian language learning but the results have been disappointing. A recent study shows that fewer than 10 per cent of university students study languages in Australia but only a quarter of those complete their courses.

Charging the riggers

We noticed a recent headline a British newspaper: 'Bankers found to have rigged Libor rate could face jail'. This was on top a story about the serious fraud squad warning that it would bring criminal charges against bankers involved in the Libor rigging. We are offering a chocolate rhinoceros to the prosecutor who is able to find a banker guilty of rigging Libor. Yes, we know there are e-mails of people in Barclays who lobbied their chums involved in submitting the bank's offer to the Libor panel of the British Bankers' Association. Even if those submitting the bank's bids really did accommodate them, how much influence did each individual bank have when the eventual rate is an average of all the submitted bids, excluding the outliers?

Also, the rate is not based on matters of fact. It is a subjective opinion on what they believe to be the rates the banks would have to offer. This talk of criminal charges is all politics, and we doubt very much if anyone will be found guilty of rigging Libor. At best some may be charged with conspiring to rig Libor. But as usual, the main beneficiaries of all this will be 'my learned friends'.

The best of British

Good to see London Mayor Boris Johnson on top of his game for the Olympics. 'Britain is being very polite in not hogging all the medals,' he reportedly said. A fine example of understatement.