Tamar plan fails to offer a responsible building strategy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 April, 2006, 12:00am

In considering its future headquarters, has the government thought about the expense of putting a fifth of its facilities underground ('Tamar HQ shrinks to placate its critics', April 20)? Does it realise that it is a legal requirement in many countries for all occupants, whatever their status, to be able to see daylight, and that natural ventilation, at least part of the year, is considered normal?

Why is no mention made of environmental measures to reduce energy consumption, of solar shading and alternative power sources such as solar power or wind generation?

With all this talk of Hong Kong aiming to attract maximum business and tourism, why is there no emphasis on the level of excellence in design?

Has no one pointed out that time spent planning the right action is time and, indeed, money well-spent?

As the author of Tomorrow's Office - Creating Effective and Humane Interiors, I am driven by the above questions and many more to doubt the validity of the discussion paper being presented to the Legislative Council subcommittee set up to review planning for the Central waterfront. It concentrates on answering every possible objection, but appears to contain no responsible strategy. For an initiative of this importance, the public has the right to expect a much more substantial document, based on the impartial and transparent investigation of all possible options. Let us hope and trust that somehow this will be forthcoming before any irreversible action is taken.


Speed is of the essence

Sometimes criticism of prosecutors is justified. Often it is not. Your editorial 'Speed is of the essence when children are in court' (April 20) reflected the comments of a deputy judge in a trial of alleged child rape on the need for expedition where vulnerable witnesses are involved. But it did not acknowledge the high priority which prosecutors already accord to such cases.

There was indeed a case about a year ago which involved a delay in bringing a rape case to trial, and remedial measures were immediately implemented. In March last year, prosecutors were reminded of the High Court practice direction on the early listing of cases, and advised 'of the need not only to treat vulnerable witness cases with sensitivity, but to give priority to cases involving such witnesses at both the advisory and prosecution stages'. This advice has been fully observed by prosecutors in every case of which I am aware.

The process of transcribing, translating and certifying documents is, with the best will in the world, invariably a protracted exercise for those concerned. They must ensure not only that the documents are accurate, but also that they satisfy legal requirements.

Due to their workload, investigators outsource much of this work to the private sector. The certification itself is conducted by a team of specialist translators in the court language section, based in the District Court.

The certification inevitably takes time, and the video-recorded interviews of the child and the suspect in last week's case generated 302 pages of Chinese documents and 275 pages of English documents. There were also 107 pages of documentary exhibits to be certified. The process of preparing the documents for committal took about four months to complete, causing a delay.

I am liaising with the police and the judiciary to see if, despite their workload, anything else can be done to expedite the process of transcription, translation and certification of documents in vulnerable witness cases.

The suspect in this case was arrested in June last year. When police sought legal advice in August, this was provided within 10 days. Once the documents were available and the case was set down in December for committal from the Magistrates' Court to the High Court, the defence sought an adjournment of three weeks to read the papers.

After the case was committed for trial in January this year, prosecutors sought and obtained an early trial date from the High Court, in line with the practice direction. Whereas a normal case can take up to six months to be listed for trial, this one was tried within three months of committal.

In 2004, the Department of Justice issued The Statement on the Treatment of Victims and Witnesses. This indicates how, as prosecutors, we consider that victims and witnesses should be treated and their interests safeguarded. Our vulnerable-witness team of 18 dedicated prosecutors has a specific mandate to uphold the interests of victims and witnesses at every stage of criminal proceedings.

Victims and witnesses are essential to the success of the criminal justice system. Those who commit offences can only be prosecuted if victims are willing to make reports and to testify.

Your editorial writer may be assured that our prosecutors are utterly committed to protecting and advancing the interests of vulnerable witnesses, and to full liaison with others to achieve that end.

I. GRENVILLE CROSS, SC, director of public prosecutions

Clouded by denial

Two letters to the South China Morning Post downplayed the pollution problem on the very day Christine Loh Kung-wai of Civic Exchange pointed out that we often have only five days a month of reasonable visibility ('A time for action', April 21).

It is truly a head-in-the-sand exercise to observe that the pollution in mainland cities is worse or 'academic' when one cannot see the sun or Lion Rock.

Such attitudes are a prime reason why we have ended up where we are today - sick and getting sicker, while the world makes its own comparisons with cities such as Tokyo, London and Sydney and reaches the opposite conclusion to letter writer Jim Thompson ('Removals figures contradict claims of an expat drain').

He 'abhors' pollution, but does not see it deterring his clients. Obviously not, once they have decided to come here; but many others may relocate to Shanghai, and he wouldn't know it.

In doing their duty to Hong Kong, Mr Thompson and letter writer Jyoti Singh Visvanath ('Second-class expatriates') should add their voices to the pressure on the government to clean up our act, and help the mainland clean up as well.

Mr Thompson should stop averting his gaze from the poison in our air and apply his dynamism to getting it cleaned up. As I watch the sun slide behind the smog, I'd encourage him to see it as a good investment in the future of his business.


We are all polluters

The increasingly serious problem of air pollution in Hong Kong is brewing a noxious cocktail of increased health-care costs and poor competitiveness.

While the local power companies have been viewed as major culprits, pollution is everyone's business. It appears most people do not realise that the more electricity they consume, the more polluted is the environment.

Private car owners should also be held responsible for the deteriorating air quality, and taxed accordingly. What better idea at a time when the government is looking for ways to broaden its tax base?

Combating pollution requires a prolonged battle. Education is the key. The earlier people learn how to make peace with nature, the less harm they will do to the environment.

KEN SOO, Wan Chai

News ban proves point

Congratulations to the brave woman who confronted President Hu Jintao on the White House lawn with some well-deserved criticism of his country's outrageous suppression of truth and freedom of speech ('Red faces over ceremony blunders', April 21). It is noted that reports of the incident were broadcast throughout the world - except, of course, on the mainland, where the heavy hand of authority obliterated it from public news and television broadcasts - thus proving the woman's point of view.


Revamp education

I was astonished at the vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong's defence of undergraduates in the article 'Chief keen for another term to lead from behind' (April 15).

Responding to the general perception that they are not as competitive as those of previous generations, Professor Tsui Lap-chee said: 'Maybe employers think there are certain skills that students ought to have, but the school has so many things to teach and what the employers think important may not be most important in school.'

What a poor excuse! Employers certainly know what kind of people and skills they require. It is up to education providers to proactively come up with the required training.

It is time the whole education system, from kindergarten to higher education, be re-evaluated and revamped to creatively educate and motivate students so that they will be fully equipped to lead from the front well into the future.

ALEX TAM, Sai Kung