Consult the public on Tamar before demanding $5.1b

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 June, 2006, 12:00am

Director of Administration Elizabeth Tse Man-yee's letter 'Public heeded on Tamar' (June 9) does not answer our fundamental concern that there should be proper public consultation over the Tamar project before the government seeks funding from the Legislative Council Finance Committee on June 23.

It also fails to satisfactorily address environmental and other concerns fundamental to the Tamar proposal:

First, the government has not satisfactorily explained why there is a need to move 3,270 staff to Tamar when only five years ago it publicly advocated selling the site to developers. Since then, the civil service has shrunk from 190,000 people to 160,000;

It has also not explained satisfactorily why alternative sites such as Kai Tak are not being considered, why the Central Government Offices cannot be renovated, and whether the present government sites will be sold;

The government's claim that two hectares of the Tamar site have been given up for public enjoyment as open space is misleading. The outline zoning plan has always legally zoned this as open space for public enjoyment. Therefore, the government is taking the entire Tamar site of three hectares of public land and $5.1 billion of public funds for its own use;

According to a Transport Department report, the Tamar project will attract an extra 3,210 vehicles an hour to Central. Together with five other government-proposed projects, it will attract a further 7,623 vehicles an hour. As a result, Central and Wan Chai will again see unacceptable traffic congestion by 2016, which may necessitate further reclamation;

According to an expert report published recently, Hong Kong's 'concentration of air pollution exceeds World Health Organisation standards by 200 per cent'. The additional traffic and proposed projects will worsen air quality, for which the government has not been able to suggest any remedy;

At more than 40 storeys high, the new central government complex will create a wall effect, blocking air flow and harbour views. The government offices will be dead after office hours. Despite the government's promises to make the harbour 'attractive, vibrant, accessible and symbolic of Hong Kong', its proposal for Tamar will achieve just the opposite and will degrade people's enjoyment of the harbour;

Finally, the government has not demonstrated any urgency or reason why funding should be approved before the above concerns are satisfactorily resolved and before its building plans are made public. As it is taking away valuable assets from the public for its own self-interest, it should act fairly and objectively and should not be seen to be forcing the matter through Legco with undue haste.

It should respect the opinion and wishes of Hong Kong people, who are the rightful owners of both the Tamar site and the $5.1 billion. After all, everyone will be the victims of any adverse environmental impact.

For the above reasons, we ask the government not to apply for funding until a proper public consultation has been conducted. It owes the people of Hong Kong such a duty.


Investigate dioxin claim

It is heartening that the South China Morning Post has published an independent survey of public opinion on the Tamar site, and congratulations on your editorial calling for a more prudent action plan ('Tamar survey deserves careful scrutiny', June 12). With city fathers of high integrity speaking out for the best interests of Hong Kong, perhaps a pause by the Legislative Council Finance Committee in voting on June 23 is justified.

Moreover, as one of the most potent cancer-causing agents, dioxin contamination at Love Canal in New York several decades ago caused a widespread public health crisis. The Environmental Protection Department should conduct soil analysis and tell the public if allegations of dioxin contamination at Tamar are true.

The development will surely become a $5.1 billion white elephant if it eventually has to be demolished because of dioxin contamination.


A regrettable reaction

Disagreement between a president of a university and a minister of education stimulates public debate, and should be welcomed in an open society. It is therefore regrettable that the secretary for education and manpower, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, saw fit to react to criticism from Lingnan University president Edward Chen Kwan-yiu by suggesting that 'as programme director of the Civic Party's Institute for Public Service, he feels obliged to promote party politics' ('Such is politics', June 10).

The aim of the Institute for Public Service is to organise lectures to promote interest in all kinds of public service and to offer short courses on skills and ethics to people who aspire to public service, including participation in politics.

The plan to set up such an institute, and Professor Chen's agreement to oversee the contents and quality of the courses and lecture series, predates the Civic Party.

We are proud of the support and approbation of Professor Chen, whose distinguished record of public service is for all to see. I would have thought that, as an educationalist-cum-politician par excellence, Mr Li would show respect and admiration rather than hurt and sarcasm.

MARGARET NG, Civic Party

Even the Pope is mortal

Why should Mary Lee be upset with the chief executive for visiting an 'unauthorised' bishop for his communion with his God ('Career over convictions, June 9)? After all, the person who does the authorising is himself mortal. What empowers the Pope to 'represent' God other than that he is appointed by other mortals backed by tonnes of money?


High price of long lives

In his article 'The myth of sickly senior citizens' (June 7), George Cautherley argued that the popular view that an ageing population accounts for a major share of health-care spending is untrue because people maintain good health well into old age and the costs of dying are the same whether one dies young or old.

While these arguments are true, they ignore the cost of new advances appearing every day that help people live longer. These include tests to predict, detect and assess cancers, and drugs, devices and transplants that keep us going and out of hospitals despite our chronic illnesses and age-related degeneration - not to mention the costs that lead to the discoveries of these technological wonders.

S.K. LAM, dean, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong

Victims of Israel

Rhondda May's letter on discrimination in the Arab world ('A history of persecution', June 9) failed to tell us why the Palestinians live in 'squalid refugee camps'.

Most of these refugees were forced out of their homes shortly before and after the establishment of Israel in 1948. The second mass deportation took place after the Israeli army occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war.

It is bewildering that the society Ms May describes as 'democratic' and 'free' allowed any Jew anywhere in the world to immigrate and live in Israel or in settlements illegally built in the Palestinian territories, and yet prohibited the same right to the Palestinians forced out of Palestine.

Palestinian Arabs live in Israel because they did not succumb to persecution aimed at forcing them to leave. They choose to suffer on their land instead of suffering in the refugee camps. The number of their representatives in the Knesset is too small to influence Israeli politics.

I pity the writer's attempt to convince us that Israel lives under threat, considering that it is the only country in the region that has nuclear weapons and the unflinching support of the United States.

The whole world appealed to Israel to accept the Arab League initiative in 2002, offering to let it live in peace with its neighbours in return for withdrawing from the Arab lands occupied in the 1967 war.

Needless to say, construction of Israel's 'security barrier' defied a ruling of the International Court of Justice and violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and United Nations' resolutions. Because of this barrier, more than 60 per cent of households have lost over half their income and more than half a million Palestinians are dependent on food aid.

There is no doubt that the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories is the main reason for the loss of lives on both sides. Recent statistics from the Israeli information centre for human rights, B'Tselem, show that the number of Palestinian civilians killed by the Israeli army is triple the number of Israeli civilians killed by suicide bombers.

ISLAM SALAH, Causeway Bay