History decides which symbols to save

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 June, 1997, 12:00am

Will there be any British symbols left after the handover? Yes, a few. For instance the crown at the top of the Legco building looks to have a post-handover future even though it is clearly visible all over Central. The building is protected under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance and any removal could destroy the fabric.

There has been no Cultural Revolution-style government-wide purge. Departments have been quietly making their own decisions on what should go and what should stay over the last two years, and if an item has historical value they have been told it can stay.

How much is it costing to get rid of the British flags, crowns and crests? There has been no overall estimate and indeed the cost of removing symbols is dwarfed by the Government's $1 billion-plus profit on selling pre-handover stamps. But the biggest bills are believed to be at the disciplined services and the Judiciary, which are paying $20 million between them.

The shopping list has included: flags at $1,500 each; SAR and Chinese national emblems at $1,200 to $2,950 (depending on size); and removing and replacing the emblems in courtroom walls at $80,000 per emblem.

Civil servants' tea cups and saucers are also being changed.

And what do we get instead? Most departments have taken the opportunity to introduce logos based around their job or their Chinese names rather than simply replacing the current crowns with the regional emblem, the bauhinia flower with its five stars.

Current plans, yet to be finally approved by the incoming administration, would see the five-star national emblem, as seen on most government buildings in China and the Xinhua building in Happy Valley, appear on only a few dozen major government buildings.

Can protesters burn the SAR or Chinese flag at protests? Sure, as long as they don't mind paying a fine up to $50,000 and spending three years in jail.

As a recent 'concession' by Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa, the penalty for desecrating the SAR flag or emblem is likely to be reduced to just up to a year in prison and a fine up to $50,000 if the case is heard in summary trial in a magistrate's court.

At present, the only local law on flags and emblems does not prohibit burning or destroying them. However, anyone trying to use them commercially risks three months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

What else will change? The good news is that you will never get another 'On Her Majesty's Service' envelope with a tax bill inside. The bad news is that you'll still get a tax bill, but it will say 'On Government Service'.

The envelopes are all stockpiled and ready. This is one handover job that has been done in plenty of time.

For further information: investigate the Hong Kong Government Web Site at http://www.info.gov.hk at about midnight on the Last Day. Some government webheads are being hauled into the government computer centre to change all the logos at the stroke of midnight.