Restaurants agree to pay 'excessive' sewage tariff
By PATRICIA YOUNG
RESTAURANT owners yesterday accused the Government of extortion, but conceded they are paying under protest what they say are 'criminal' sewage surcharges.
The territory's 8,000 restaurant owners have been battling with the Government for the past two months over the trade effluent surcharge. A tariff of $1.20 per cubic metre covers most domestic and industrial discharge, but restaurants must pay an extra $9.12 per cubic metre.
About 98 per cent of owners required to pay the surcharge have already settled their bills. But the industry says restaurants will go out of business.
'The Government can afford to clean up Hong Kong with the money we are already paying them out of taxes,' industry spokesman Tommy Cheung Yat-yan said.
'This charge is not fair because it forces restaurants, which are already under economic pressure, to pay too much. It could drive us out of business. It's criminal.' The industry said the survey used by the Government to calculate the surcharge was not accurate, since it sampled only 26 restaurants.
A spokesman for the Planning, Environment and Lands Branch said the Government was willing to consider any new calculations presented by the restaurant industry. But Mr Cheung said it would cost nearly $1 million to conduct such a survey.
'We have lined up 100 to 150 restaurants, but each sampling will cost between $8,000 and $9,000,' Mr Cheung said.
'Our association is trying to collect the money now by getting restaurants to contribute.' There have been four heated meetings on the issue between the Government and the industry in the past two months.
'The timing of the surcharge is very bad, so all we are asking for is a six-month or one-year grace period,' Mr Cheung said.
'Because of the downturn in the economy this is a very bad time to start hitting us with extra costs.' But the spokesman said the Government had repeatedly pointed out that the sewage services regulations did not allow any 'grace period' or non-payment pending the outcome of the survey.
The branch spokesman said: 'We are still awaiting their proposal which has to be agreed with the Government before the trade could start the survey.
'The administration is prepared to accept the results of the survey as long as it is done in a scientific, equitable and independent way.' The Government agreed at a meeting in mid-June that a sampling survey could be conducted after the industry presented its proposal.