Unhealthy dose of patient woes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 August, 1998, 12:00am

THE death of three patients at a private hospital while undergoing dialysis treatment, a brutal attack on a radio talk show host, US President Bill Clinton's sex scandal and the Government's continuing intervention in the stock and futures market were the main focus of editorial comments in the Chinese press last week.

Ming Pao said the death of three patients at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital highlighted a long neglected problem - the monitoring of private hospitals. The impression among the public that private hospitals had less medical blunders than public ones might just be an illusion, it said.

Ta Kung Pao said the series of fatal errors at public and private hospitals had seriously impaired public confidence in the health system. Oriental Daily lamented that indolence seemed to have pervaded the SAR's health system as well as other sectors. The professionalism which Hong Kong used to be very proud of seemed to have dissipated.

Apple Daily said outspoken Albert Cheng King-hon, host of the popular phone-in programme Teacup In A Storm, played a big role in making Hong Kong a more transparent and accountable society. If the assault was aimed at silencing him, then it was more frightening than speculators attacking the dollar. Hong Kong would cease to be itself with the loss of free speech, it said. Ming Pao called on other media workers to stick to their principles and continue to uncover, report, criticise and comment without fear or favour. Sing Tao Daily News said the police must try its best to catch the culprits to allay public anxiety and restore Hong Kong's international image as a safe city.

Hong Kong Economic Journal said the row surrounding Mr Clinton's infidelity showed puritanical traditions remained strong in the United States. A similar scandal would not have developed in Europe where the 'sexual liberation' movement began much earlier and the public felt a distinction should be made between public officials' private and public lives. In this respect, American values were still close to those of the Chinese and were praiseworthy in this day and age when morality was generally on the decline, the paper said.

Apply Daily said no one could help a Clinton with his pants down. Although polls showed Americans still seemed to want him as president, the paper wondered if this was because the US economy had fared well under his reign. Had there been a recession, a president would be shunned even if he was more than a puritan in his private life.

Ming Pao said Mr Clinton's confession was a victory for the American governmental system. It showed that the separation of powers and monitoring by the media were effective in preventing the corruption of power. The merits of such a political system should set an example to Asian societies, it said.

Defending the Government's intervention in the stock and futures market, Wen Wei Po noted that even the US Government once sold a large amount of silver until a speculator who had pushed prices up by manipulating the silver futures market went bankrupt. This was because the fluctuation of the metal's prices threatened the status of the US dollar.

However, the paper said the Hong Kong Government should realise that its assault on speculators would not solve the root of the problem. The paper proposed raising the deposits for stock and currency futures contracts to increase the costs of speculation and enhancing the futures market's transparency by adopting a computerised logging and contract-matching system.

Maintaining its opposition to government intervention, Hong Kong Economic Journal said Hong Kong had become a truly international financial centre because the Government had stayed out of the market, unlike Singapore and Taiwan where official intervention was common.

Now that the damage had already been done, the Government should try to withdraw from the market as soon as possible because the signs were that international speculators were digging in for a protracted battle. The Journal said a main cause of Hong Kong's economic bubble was the inflow of a large amount of hot money, which now left the Asian miracle debunked. Hong Kong need not care if the hot money now left by the sale of shares by their original investors, or profit-making in the futures market by hedge funds, succeeded in creating a bear market.

Oriental Daily endorsed the call by Professor Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, a former executive councillor, for the introduction of a strict system of declaration of interests by senior finance officials and members of the Exchange Fund Advisory Board to ensure they would not profit from their access to sensitive information. The paper was concerned that more people were now privy to such information following the Government's direct intervention in the stock and futures market. They included junior finance officials, fund managers and stock brokers.

Hong Kong Economic Times said the Government must try to revive the property market in order to resuscitate the economy. The paper reckoned property values had already fallen to a reasonable level and the Government should now try to steer the market towards a moderate upward trend.

Government policies should aim at ensuring house prices would rise by about three per cent a year, it said.