PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 12:00am

Q Should littering fines take into account the offender's ability to pay?

The idea that someone should be punished less for an offence because they have less money is absolutely ridiculous. People should not litter or spit - there is no excuse. If the level of a fine is regarded by the offender as a mere nuisance, it is too low. If Hong Kong is to establish itself as a world-class city, littering - and especially spitting - must stop.

If you compare the penalties for littering and running a red light, you may conclude that the latter is a lesser offence because the fine is lower. The problem is that penalties for driving offences are too low.

The government has yet to realise that motorists who drive through red lights pose a far greater risk to the public than jaywalkers. You can often see about a dozen traffic police at the junction of Nathan and Jordan roads. Jaywalkers are fined, but the drivers of cars, buses, taxis and other vehicles that pass through red lights - sometimes blocking the junction - escape without even a verbal reprimand.

Police really do not have their priorities right.

Terje Taraldlien, Tsim Sha Tsui

Q Have you experienced a bad attitude from a doctor?

A few years ago, I underwent emergency surgery on my retina. The ophthalmologist told me to check into the hospital in the evening and surgery would be performed the following morning.

The private hospital did an excellent job of checking me in and provided an extra bed so that my wife could spend the night with me.

In the morning, we both advised the physician, as I would be under general anaesthetic, that I suffered from hypertension and was taking blood-thinning medication in addition to some natural supplements.

His only response was 'I know, I know', and he subsequently did his best to avoid our questions or give us any detailed information about what was about to happen. He appeared to be extremely uncomfortable when interacting with us.

The surgery took at least four hours, during which time my poor wife waited outside the operating theatre with no word on my progress. After she pleaded for information, a nurse told her that the operation was over and I was recovering.

My wife asked if she could speak to the doctor, but he refused to talk to her, saying he was too busy and needed to get back to his office.

To cut a long story short, my operation failed because of bleeding into the eye caused by hypertension and thin blood. I spent a week in a private hospital at a further cost of $78,000. The doctor who performed the surgery was $93,000 richer, and I'm now blind in one eye thanks to him 'knowing' everything and failing to communicate. When he was asked why this happened, he simply replied 'this wasn't my expectation'.

You know the old maxim about doctors burying their mistakes - luckily, this wasn't life-threatening surgery.

So much for bedside manner and communicating with the patient.

Phil Holloway, Mid-Levels

Q What do you think of the Tsim Sha Tsui development plans?

As soon as the Urban Renewal Authority project on Mody Road and the conversion of the Hyatt Regency is complete, we will need more road space to accommodate the increased traffic in the area.

However, instead of preparing for such a scenario, the authorities are phasing out the present road network system to build picnic spots and theme parks - a landscaped pedestrian square.

I believe this is aimed at inconveniencing motorists so the railways profit.

Nalini Daswani, Tsim Sha Tsui

On other matters...

I was distressed to hear that two more people were tied to trees and robbed in Tai Tam Country Park - especially since my recent attempt to report illegal immigrants in the park was treated as a joke by emergency services staff.

Three or four weeks ago, after encountering two immigrants while jogging in the park at dusk, I ran a couple of kilometres to an emergency call box at Violet Hill.

After pressing the black button (which required superhuman strength), I was told that immigration complaints could not be processed by emergency services and was rudely told to call the relevant department. When I explained that I had no phone, the line went dead.

I called back, enraged and frustrated, asking the operator to provide assistance and explaining that someone was recently bound and robbed in the park. I begged for my complaint to be taken seriously and that I be transferred to someone who could help, but the operator refused.

I then pushed the red police button (also requiring superhuman strength) and reported how badly I had been treated by the emergency services operator. While the officer sincerely tried to help, he did not know the location of Tai Tam Country Park. I gave detailed directions, but at the end of the conversation, he asked if I was in Chai Wan (a good 15 minutes away by car). Although I offered to direct him to the site, he still could not fathom my location. And why should he? After all, he was working at a central call-processing centre, far from Tai Tam.

It became apparent to me that Hong Kong parks are not safe, partly because emergency services are not equipped to respond to complaints such as mine. If you report a life-threatening incident, like a fire or serious injury, they simply are unable to provide assistance.

This should ring loud alarm bells.

Firstly, there is rarely mobile phone reception in parks - of the 30 or 40 times I've tried to use my phone while on hikes, I have successfully obtained reception only once. The government must step in and pay for coverage in areas where it is not commercially provided, as is the case in many other countries.

I have reported injuries while hiking in remote regions of Canada and the United States and never had a problem with mobile phone reception.

Secondly, the current 'push button' system of emergency call boxes only works for the strong and healthy. A sick or injured person could not keep the buttons pressed long enough to make a call.

Also, emergency call boxes should relay calls to the nearest police station, rather than a central call-processing centre. If this had been the case, my call would have been transferred to Stanley police and officers could reach Tai Tam in minutes.

Finally, the apathetic response I received from emergency services can only be described as negligent. The woman I spoke with had a 'don't bother me' attitude. I don't believe she would have helped if I had found someone tied to a tree.

Unless these issues are addressed, we must realise that no one is safe in our parks.

Name and address supplied

I am writing to you about a major problem that exists at a great majority - if not all - supermarkets in Hong Kong. The aisles are blocked with boxes of goods placed in front of shelves that are already full. It is virtually impossible to manoeuvre around these obstacles, even without a trolley.

It is also sometimes nigh on impossible to reach items on shelves because the boxes are piled up high and wide. I, for one, am getting sick and tired of having to squeeze into the narrow gaps between boxes and shelves just to find what I want to buy. Surely this is a danger for all, particularly small children, who could suffer a serious injury if heavy boxes were to fall on them.

There is a distinct lack of space in the supermarkets, but it is up to the management to provide us with a safe shopping experience, rather than the squeeze it has turned into.

I would be interested to hear what managers have to say about the unsafe conditions in their supermarkets and what action they are going to take this time, as I remember it was also an issue a few years ago. They seem to be reverting back to their old ways and bad habits.

Sabine Honig, Fanling

Thank you Jerry Tam Kwok-wah (of the Labour Tribunal) for confirming what many contract workers from overseas have long suspected in 'Sacked teacher is awarded $68,000' (SCMP November 11).

In response to teacher Mark Aldred's claim that his school administration had acted unreasonably by altering the terms of his contract, Mr Tam, was quoted as saying it is 'a common practice for employees' terms and conditions to be altered from time to time'.

Anywhere else in the world, one expects a contract to be a legally binding agreement. Apparently not in Hong Kong.

Roz Allardice, Lantau