HONG KONG ALFRESCO?
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa should be commended for placing Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in charge of helping to clean Hong Kong and spruce up its image for the world.
This is no small task and should be given utmost priority among all divisions of government. It is time for the different departments to stop talking with one another and get on with what needs to be done for the betterment of this city.
Hong Kong needs a quick change in philosophy and mindset in order to accomplish the tasks needed to improve our image. Some of the tasks must be carried out without delay. And the great news is that they can be done immediately with very little cost involved.
People are demanding a better living environment. Our satisfaction with such improvements will do wonders for our global image as we tell our friends and family that Hong Kong is a 'new' city and worth visiting again.
Among the quick changes that need to be made involve the licensing of outdoor dining.
There is a major contradiction in the government's approach to food handling in this city, which does nothing to help both the impression and the reality of cleanliness here.
It is very common to see raw meat dripping blood on to the road as it is transported through our streets and markets - yet you cannot dine outdoors in Hong Kong.
Outdoor dining will help to improve the environmental and aesthetic conditions of any location, since people like to eat in nice surroundings.
With immediate effect, all cars should be banned from Lan Kwai Fong on a daily basis from 6pm until 3am. Vehicles should also be banned 24 hours a day on the short seaside road on the Stanley waterfront.
It should be clear that the benefits for the city in terms of increased business and improved atmosphere would far outweigh any complaints.
At the same time, our air needs serious help, and a ban on all imported diesel vehicles, other than large transport vehicles, would be a significant step in the right direction.
This would also send the type of message that the world expects to see in Hong Kong's clean-up effort.
These measures will cost nothing, but will have positive long-term benefits not only in terms of health but innovation. After all, there is no point to eating outdoors or having a world-class athletic stadium if you can only smell diesel fumes and cannot see the other side of the harbour.
Lastly, smoke-free dining should be enforced at all eating and drinking establishments, which would likely lead to a greater interest in outdoor dining. This would also have the follow-on effect of beautifying certain areas.
Make a level playing field for all of the catering industry and follow the lead of another world city, New York, in planning and regulations.
The increase in patrons who like smoke-free environments will outweigh any decline in the patronage of smokers. People will still eat out, and most smokers do not smoke when they eat anyway, but afterwards.
Mr Tsang, the clock is ticking. Seize the moment. Our city needs a facelift - something that extra bleach and cleansing will not provide. And it needs a jump-start to get this going.
I am one of the affected residents living in the urban renewal area of Sai Yin Pun First and Second streets and was quoted in the article headlined, 'Flat owners to miss sale deadline' (South China Morning Post, May 12).
The article said that the protesters were demanding more compensation for their flats, a point that needs explanation.
We are not asking for more compensation out of greed. We are asking for fair compensation, which will allow owners to buy seven-year-old flats of a similar size in the same district.
Under the coercive land resumption practice, the 'seven-year-old flats' compensation criterion is supposed to compensate us for the surrender of our property to the government.
Therefore, a 'home purchase allowance' is what we deserve instead of an ex-gratia allowance.
Since the present compensation sum only allows us to buy a 20-year-old flat of similar size in the same location, we - 80 dissatisfied owners - initiated a protest against the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), declaring that it had failed to comply with the compensation criteria passed by legislative councillors on March 30, 2001.
After an overnight protest on May 12, we had the opportunity to talk with the URA's executive director, Lam Chung-lung, and vice executive director Mak Chun-fong. In the meeting, Mr Mak boldly said that the compensation criteria does not guarantee that the sum is sufficient to buy a seven-year-old flat of similar size in the same district.
He claimed that the URA followed a certain procedure to calculate the value of a seven-year-old flat, but he would not disclose it. Obviously, the URA distorts the real meaning of 'seven-year-old flat compensation'.
More seriously, the URA always declines residents' requests to disclose the details of their property appraisals, which is key to determining whether the compensation is fair or not. It is completely wrong for the URA not to disclose the content of the seven surveyors' appraisals reports in this forced-sale situation.
The URA owes us an explanation which would demonstrate the claimed fairness of compensation. We question whether the URA selects samples of seven-year-old flat transactions at all and, if it does, how many such samples are selected to calculate the value of such a flat.
Without disclosing the appraisal reports, how can the URA convince us that the number is not made up?
How can it prove that compensation is fair in the sense of complying with the compensation criteria for seven-year-old flats?
We do not want to hear about the appraisal procedure again. We want to know the details of the appraisal reports, such as what samples the URA's recruited surveyors select, how they select those samples, how they define the boundary of the 'same location' and how they adjust their gross calculation.
If the compensation really was fair, the URA would have showed us the detailed information in the property appraisals.