Facts fly as discretion prevails

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 1995, 12:00am

IT'S amazing the snippets you pick up when legislators stop making set speeches and get down to the real business of quizzing government officials.

This week, Legco dispensed with the pomposity of motion debates and formal talk-ins, transformed itself into a Finance Committee, whipped out those fine-tooth combs (ivory for the fat-cats, tortoiseshell for the more modest, biodegradable plastic for the politically correct) and began to go through the Government's Expenditure Estimates.

Soon those factoids were coming thick and fast.

The Commissioner for Census and Statistics confessed in a moment of Freudian inattention that he did not want to ask businesses for too many facts and figures. Otherwise, he admitted, they might be 'bored . . . erm . . . bothered'.

Howard Young suggested, with the air of one who knew of what he spoke, that Hong Kong had a million water-users. Members looked up in alarm.

You could see the questions forming behind the frowns. What did the other five million drink? Chrysanthemum nectar? Coca-Cola? What did they put in their baths? Diplomatically, the Director of Water Supplies put him right. The figure was 1.73 million, he said. Registered users.

But, for sheer excitement, nothing could quite beat the intimation the whole Legco chamber was unsafe. We had noticed the chunks missing from the cornice above the press gallery. But we hadn't quite realised the significance until Edward Brand, the Director of Civil Engineering, dropped his bombshell.

'Regrettably', he said, blinding us all with science, the department used to talk about 'low-risk' and 'high-risk' walls and slopes.

Now it had changed its definitions. A 'negligible-consequence' slope was one which might collapse tomorrow - but no one was likely to be hurt.

'That wall,' he said pointing to the one immediately behind the committee's collective head, 'is a high-consequence wall - because if it fell down it would hurt a large number of members.' Discretion is the better part of valour. We left.