What is at stake is democracy, not party interests

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2006, 12:00am

I must confess to finding Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun's line of thought in 'Clearing hazards from the path' (July 25) a little tricky to follow. He writes that former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee should state their policies. If I understand him correctly, he is saying that if he and his buddies in industry agree with those policies, they will deign to consider Mrs Chan's and Mrs Ip's views. If they do not, then the good ladies can take a hike.

To me, his argument conflates two quite separate discussions. The first is about the system: the roles society's various stakeholders - people, businesses, NGOs - have in choosing policies, and the trade-off between their needs.

The second issue is the policies themselves: whether to have, for example, high taxation and a wide safety net (as in, say, Sweden), or low taxation and less of a safety net (as in Hong Kong). However, these options are both available in the same system: democratic capitalism. Hong Kong, of course, has capitalism. Democracy is the issue.

Mrs Ip, whose views on democracy are no less elitist for her master's thesis, clearly believes that some stakeholders are less equal than others; Mrs Chan is still in the process of forming a view ('Chan seeks plan for universal suffrage', July 20). But both are forming a view on the system, while Mr Tien merely resists any change that may threaten his party's policies. It's hardly a visionary perspective, but he is entitled to it.

As for me, the system I would prefer would have a directly elected chief executive or, if there is insufficient political will to amend the Basic Law, an electoral college that is 100 per cent directly elected.

It would have a bicameral legislature, with the upper house consisting of the current functional constituencies and the voting re-arranged so that everyone has one vote. Under the current system, some people have no votes, while one person I know has three. The lower house would be the geographical constituencies.

I would also abolish the misguided Principal Officials Accountability System introduced by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

The important thing, however, is not whether Mrs Ip, Mrs Chan or I are right but that the debate on democracy actually happens. I fail to see how Mr Tien has contributed.


Time to move on idling

It is about time the government considered a law against drivers who do not switch off idling engines ('Law could ban idling engines', July 25). Every day I have to walk past idle tour buses spewing out hot air and goodness-knows-what toxins just so the drivers can keep cool with the air-conditioning blasting.

The chairman of the Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group's argument that it is difficult for minibuses to switch off their air-conditioning because passengers will not be able to enjoy immediate cool is spurious. Small sacrifices by some are a small price to pay if they lead to benefits for the entire community.


Cross worth bearing

It is a pity that some people living over the road from the new campus of Marymount Primary School in Tai Hang are upset at its plans to put up a cross ('Uproar over giant cross for school', July 22).

In the context of Christianity, the cross is much more than a 'highly charged symbol', as the residents call it. It is a sign of God's love for mankind and Jesus' willingness to suffer for mankind's sins. It is a symbol of faith, hope and love - the essential elements of Christianity.

Let me call upon our Buddhist friends in Tai Hang, as well as people of all religious beliefs, to be more tolerant of one another. After all, we are all members of Asia's world city, and the harmony of our community is built on mutual respect.


Towards fairer taxes

I am prompted to put pen to paper after arriving in Hong Kong from Melbourne in the middle of your debate on a goods and services tax. Australia introduced a GST about six years ago and, by and large, it has worked well, although it has created a lot of extra paperwork for businesses, the government's unpaid tax collectors.

In Australia, the income disparity is comparatively low, with high-income earners making about three times as much as the lowest paid. In the case of Hong Kong, however, the disparity between average earnings and high incomes is as much as 10 times. If the aim of introducing a consumption tax is to catch everybody, will the rich have to consume 10 times as much for the tax to be equitable?

Also, exempting businesses with annual turnovers of less than

$5 million is likely to give them an unfair advantage over other businesses. One possible spin-off of a GST would be the creation of a 'black' economy, with companies collecting cash without issuing receipts so that consumers can avoid paying the tax.

To broaden the tax base it would be better to start taxing income such as dividends, interest on bank deposits and capital gains on investment properties. This would be more equitable and cost less to administer than taxing the poor and then offering them subsidies in compensation.


Enough already

If your correspondent Elsie Tu indeed has 'ample proof' of the 'abominable election tactics' that Szeto Wah used against her ('Friend of the people', July 25), it would be fairer to all concerned if she would present such evidence for all to see instead of making frequent but unsubstantiated swipes at her former election rival, who doesn't write in English and therefore has no way to reply to her accusations in these columns. Otherwise, it gives the impression she is an ungracious loser with an implacable grudge.


Free to disagree

I would like to respond to Kenneth Tsang's letter 'Former governor proves he is not quite the diplomat' (July 25). I am not a big fan of Chris Patten myself, having not been here during his reign, but I disagree with Mr Tsang's comment that the former governor should not criticise his successors. A lot of so-called patriots in Hong Kong are of the opinion that former officials should avoid commenting on government issues, but I cannot comprehend the rationale behind this.

Second, Lord Patten's comments were hardly critical. What is criticism is saying 'Lord Patten patted his butt and left' - as the financial secretary did.

Finally, freedom of speech is something we all enjoy in Hong Kong, and Lord Patten is therefore qualified, as Mr Tsang puts it, 'to cast the first stone', the second or the last. That's the beauty of freedom of speech, and that's the reason, Mr Tsang, why you and I can express our opinions here.


Lebanon deserves better

In 2000, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan shook hands with Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and thanked him for maintaining law and order in south Lebanon - a mistake that should be haunting him today.

On touring the shattered Haret Hreik district of Beirut, his envoy, UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland, was quoted as saying: 'It is horrific. I did not know it was block after block of houses.' ('Israel breached international law, UN envoy says', July 24). Was he told that Hezbollah chose to establish its headquarters in this residential area? The Israelis warned civilians to evacuate. Mr Egeland later accused Hezbollah of hiding its fighters among Lebanese civilians ('Hezbollah 'cowards for digging in among civilians'', July 26).

Mr Annan, Mr Egeland and western leaders have condemned Israel for its disproportionate response. I am very saddened by the loss of lives on all sides. Most of those devastated by this war are civilians who were going about their lives. But the western leaders turn a blind eye to Hezbollah's target: all civilians, indiscriminately, in all of northern Israel. Western leaders have not criticised Hezbollah for being a vassal for Iran, a Trojan horse in peaceful and beautiful Lebanon.

Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government. Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri is a Shi'ite and Hezbollah ally. Analysts of the Lebanese political scene understand that opposing Hezbollah might put the fragile constitutional status quo of Lebanon at risk. But this country deserves better than to be a playground for warmongers.

The only hope for peace would be a three-step solution: an international force guarding its southern border; a well-trained, well-armed Lebanese army; and, most importantly, the skilful coalition of all the political-religious parties - the Maronites, Orthodox Christians, Druze and Sunnis - to counter the sheer number of Shi'ites and Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon.

JACK KAM, Mid-Levels




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