Pearl River pollution staggering

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 May, 2005, 12:00am

Your headline 'Putting a brake on torrents of filth' (May 12) is misleading given the content of the article.

The statistics are staggering - 'The Pearl River dumps 8,655 tonnes of heavy metal, 65,637 tonnes of nitrates and ammonia, and 59,853 tonnes of petrol into the sea each year ... The pollution threatens to turn the river mouth into the mainland equivalent of the Dead Sea.'

No mention was made of human and animal waste as inevitable ingredients in this soup. The Guangdong authorities are apparently unable to control the problem to points north, south, east and west of Guangzhou, which speaks volumes about the chronic state of affairs across the border.

What is equally incredible is that our local fishing fleet hasn't been banned from fishing in these waters, as opposed to the two-month moratorium imposed a few years back to revive dwindling fish stocks. Does the government ever monitor the presence of toxins in the fleet's catch, or is this another taboo? Surely none of it can be fit for consumption if these statistics are accurate.

We are quick to detect and raise the alarm over the very occasional cholera and ciguatera scares, but remain blissfully silent over the horror brewing around us. Any notion that the harbour will soon be safe enough to swim in is testament to the lunacy and total ignorance of those empowered to make such a comment.

M. LABRUM, Tsim Sha Tsui East

Accept legal finality

In the article 'What's legal isn't always right' (May 4), Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee argued that the interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People's Congress Standing Committee strikes at the very root of the rule of law.

The legislator said the question was not whether the NPC Standing Committee had the power of interpretation, but how the power was used. Her comment that its interpretations may be legal but cannot be regarded as legitimate or consistent with the rule of law is disturbing.

Ms Ng's view differs from that expressed by our Court of Final Appeal. In December 1999, Sir Anthony Mason observed that 'under Article 67(4), the Standing Committee exercises ... the power to interpret laws, because the PRC Constitution does not provide for a separation of powers that is the same as or similar to the common law doctrine'.

In July 2001, Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang noted that under the Chinese system, 'legislative interpretation by the Standing Committee can clarify or supplement laws. In the opinions of Professor Lian Xisheng of August 10, 1999: 'With regard to legislative interpretation, the Standing Committee may interpret the terms and expressions of the law on one hand and, on the other hand, may further clarify the scope and make supplemental provisions to make the demarcation of the law more distinct, the contents thereof more specific and the application thereof more smooth.''

Our final court judges are open-minded and sensible. They did not criticise the mainland system as being inadequate or inferior in interpreting the Basic Law, nor did they ever say that its interpretation strikes at the root of the rule of law. But some of our politicians have repeatedly advocated that this power should not be exercised by the NPC Standing Committee, or else the rule of law would be harmed. Our final court has a healthy respect for the committee's constitutionally prescribed role. Apparently some of our politicians denounce such a role.

Laws are merely rules. Laws require interpretation if they are to be applied to concrete cases. No matter whether one agrees with the decision of the institution constitutionally empowered, its interpretation, being legally final, must be regarded as right. For every legal dispute, there must be a finality. We should respect and accept that finality.

Shortly after the US Supreme Court's 5-4 judgment in Bush v. Gore in December 2000, critics attacked the decision made by five conservative justices as one promoting the interests of a particular political party and installing in power George W. Bush. Yet, for the best interests of the country, the Gore camp accepted with good grace the court's decision as being legally final and right.

To say 'What's legal isn't always right' seems to promote anarchy. For the good of the community, we should instead advocate that what is legally final must be right.


What cooled ardour?

Chris Yeung claims that the democratic ardour of July 1, 2003, 'has cooled since Beijing shattered the dream in April last year of universal suffrage by 2007' (May 11).

I beg to disagree. Long-term residents of Hong Kong may recall that in pre-1997 times, a regular survey of people's wishes indicated that their top priorities were housing, education, and other social needs. Bottom, with between 2 and 3 per cent, was democracy.

The 'cooling off' referred to is, I believe, mainly because the economy is improving, and hope is rising. People the world over, as far as I can see, put social issues first. After all, universal suffrage is only a means to better living conditions, not an end in itself. I may add that universal suffrage imposed by western powers upon former colonies such as the Philippines, Indonesia and others has more often than not led to greater poverty, power struggle and corruption. The major problem today in politics is not universal suffrage, important though that may be. What we need most is dedication to people, and personal integrity in political life as well as ability to rule.

ELSIE TU, Kwun Tong

English's classroom role

Nowadays we always hear the complaint that our generation's English standard is declining ('Speaking of English standards', May 7). I am not sure whether this is correct because the word 'declining' involves a comparison. What are we comparing? The English proficiency of university students in the past few decades with those in this century?

The pool of undergraduates has become larger since 1990s. A few decades ago, university students were the 'products' of an elite education. If we compare the undergraduates of different generations, there is no doubt that the English standard is appalling. But remember that the number of people who can speak some English is larger than before.

In a recent survey, it was found that Hong Kong students were not confident enough in using English. Some people may argue that students can speak and use English outside as well as inside the classroom. But is it necessary to do so? Do our children have to order food in English in a restaurant? Do they have to use English to buy things in a supermarket? Are they expected to speak English when they see any Chinese on the street?

Flight attendants once asked me in Cantonese what I wanted to eat and drink. I was supposed to speak in this dialect because of my black hair, yellow skin and dark eyes. When I insisted on using English, they started to speak it to me. One asked me if I couldn't speak Cantonese and I replied, 'yes, I could'. She was surprised and wondered why I spoke English rather than Cantonese.

I have many opportunities to expose myself to English. However, it is not necessary for me (and I am not expected) to use this language to communicate with Hong Kong people. If our next generations are 'forced' to use English in every corner in Hong Kong, I am sure that they will have much more confidence in speaking it. And I think that the 'falling English standard of Hong Kong students' will no longer be a headline.


Civil rights and religion

In 'Religion's poor record' (May 4), Roy Prouse suggests that religion has been ineffectual against war, poverty and corruption for the last 2,000 years.

It may appear that way until we read some history. The civil rights movement in America had its beginnings in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organisation chaired by Martin Luther King. Through non-violent methods, it raised people's consciences and persuaded the US Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Another history lesson. Mahatma Gandhi, from a devout Hindu family, was a champion of non-violence. (Dr King credits Gandhi for inspiration.) He helped India gain independence in 1947, which paved the way for a democratic government. He also defied tradition to champion the cause of the 'untouchables' and preached tolerance to Hindu and Muslim alike.

Therein lies the problem of many of the 'hot spots' Mr Prouse mentions. Perhaps these conflicts are not rooted in religion, but in poor economic circumstances and the lack of tolerance and goodwill among people of different religions. Some of us choose not to have a religion: that is also a 'civil right'. But we all have a conscience. How did it get there?