On the road to the poor house

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 June, 1997, 12:00am

THE AKERS-JONESES The rich, like the poor, will always be with us. And like the poor they serve a moral purpose. It is to remind us how lucky we are.

No, honestly, the heart of any decent human being must go out to Sir David and Lady Akers-Jones in their hour of need.

Need, that is, not only in the purely financial sense. They will be needy. But they will also be in need of emotional support.

Perhaps, like children mourning the loss of a cherished virtual pet, which died because it was banned from the classroom, the Akers-Joneses could benefit from a home visit from a government social worker to help them through this period of trauma. After all, it is official intervention which has caused their sadness too. A little counselling is the least they can ask for in return.

No sarcasm intended. It must be sad indeed after 10 years in their lovely 4,000-square-foot home, set in 11,500 square feet of wooded hillside, to face the possibility of being forced out by some hooligan bureaucrat from DEVELOP (the Department of Environmental Vandalism, Eviction and Lack of Planning).

There, but for the grace of God, go you or I.

We could at this very moment be sitting on millions of dollars worth of property, thinking of nothing more unpleasant than a gin and tonic on the veranda, with the ships sailing silently by the foot of our private slope, when up pops the postman.

'Recorded delivery,' he would say cheerfully as he handed over the envelope with the DEVELOP logo and the universe would crumble about our ears.

And then would come the hard part, as it did for the Akers-Joneses. The knowledge that our rural New Territories idyll, with its rare plants and its mature 70-year-old trees was to be turned into a six-lane highway would hurt us far more than the financial imposition. No government could compensate us for that. But the fact is we would probably be out of pocket.

After all, the place we had bought for a mere $1.425 million in 1987 and had lavished so much on since would be worth what? Lady Akers-Jones was asked on RTHK whether she thought the valuation of $30 million carried in one of the Chinese newspapers was about right, and said it was probably a bit short.

But she pointed out, quite reasonably, that $30 million would not go all that far nowadays, if they were forced to move.

And that is really what we mean about making us feel lucky. Let us take an equivalent property in the urban area, for instance. Somewhere the former Acting Governor and his wife might feel appropriate to their social status.

Say they wanted Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa as a neighbour and chose a flat in his Grenville House block. That particular des res has been valued at $35 million. But it is on the first floor. No doubt higher floors would be even more expensive. Then there would be a few extra millions to pay for the face and prestige of sharing a block with Mr Tung; and the management fees for a part in his security operation would be horrendous.

Now, let us just say, for argument's sake, that the former Acting First Family managed to squeeze $32 million out of the Government in compensation for their lost home.

Let us assume they would not be offered the old colonial living quarters at Government House in compensation and that the actual cost of a new home was $40 million. One can quite see how difficult it will be to finance the difference, even out of a civil service pension.

You and I, after all, can count ourselves well off. We only have to find at the most a few tens of thousands each month to put a roof over our heads.

Some people have to come up with millions to maintain standards.

It is tough at the top.