Li & Fung

Wearing many hats seems to have left Victor Fung muddle-minded

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2006, 12:00am

'He [Victor Fung Kwok-king] said Guangdong was reshaping its industry with emphasis on heavy and high-value-added production, which provided commercial opportunities for Hong Kong's service industry in areas such as vehicles.'

SCMP, August 29

MR FUNG IS a man who sits in many chairs, most notably as chairman of the Airport Authority, chairman of Li & Fung and chairman of the Greater Pearl River Delta Business Council. I sometimes wonder whether he can keep them all in mind.

It was in sitting on the third of the three chairs I mention that he made the remarks above. They were part of a message to us that we had better get in early on Beijing's 12th Five-Year Plan or risk being left out as all may otherwise be settled before we in Hong Kong take notice, which largely happened with the current 11th Five-Year Plan.

He also used the occasion to lament that our growing air pollution may dissuade investors from coming here. This follows the publication of an American Chamber of Commerce survey, which found that 95 per cent of respondents were worried or very worried about poor air quality and that half of them knew of professionals who had declined to come here because of it.

I am sure these Amcham figures are roughly correct, but I shall have to use the word 'roughly' because the chamber chose not to make a direct survey. Instead, it mailed out 616 questionnaires and only 140 were returned. Ask any statistician how reliable a 22.7 per cent response rate is and you will understand why I favour the word 'roughly'.

But leave this aside. I now ask Mr Fung first to consider why in one breath he should tell us that we have opportunities in the motor trade because of Guangdong's ambitions and in the next tell us that he is worried about air pollution. From what source of air pollution do you think much of this smog around our heads comes, Sir?

Next, I ask him to take his seat as chairman of Li & Fung, a company that has prospered mightily by finding manufacturers across the border who could fill orders for foreign customers when those customers may not have known quite where to look for their sources of supply.

One reason it has proven such a lucrative business is that manufacturers across the border are not particularly burdened by environmental considerations and can thus produce their goods more cheaply than competitors in the home countries of these customers.

To what extent then, Sir, have the services of Li & Fung contributed to the environmental problems from which Guangdong and Hong Kong now suffer?

I do not say that you have contributed to it directly, but you cannot really stand aside and say that our foul air has nothing to do with you.

Wittingly or unwittingly, your company profited from the lax environmental regulation that helps production costs stay low across the border and perhaps you ought to shoulder a small portion of the blame.

Finally, Mr Fung, I ask that you take your seat as chairman of the Airport Authority. You obviously take great thought for the future in general matters of how Hong Kong should fit into Beijing's five-year plans, but what about specific thought for the future about a specific task you have undertaken?

Our airport is now at or near capacity in daylight hours, not because it lacks room for aircraft or passengers but because safety considerations peculiar to Hong Kong require relatively long intervals between aircraft landings and takeoffs. The problem has been made worse by a rising proportion of narrow body aircraft using the airport.

Do you not think, Sir, that this immediate difficulty, one crucial to your direct responsibilities, deserves more attention from you than general thoughts about where Hong Kong's relations with the mainland will stand in 10 years' time?

AND HERE IS an odd one from our courts. An executive officer with the Home Affairs Bureau has been convicted of stealing HK$1.5 million intended for youth exchange programmes. He used the money to settle gambling payments.

According to evidence given the District Court, he had been prepaid the money to arrange these programmes.

What's this? Has our government become so lax about its accounting arrangements that it simply transfers project funds to the personal accounts of civil servants rather than require them to book the expenses through formal channels?

And here we have the head of InvestHK, Michael Rowse, still in trouble with his superiors because he fast-tracked expenses for the HarbourFest show three years ago. The financial secretary had given him specific approval to do so because time was pressing and he used the money for the purposes for which it was intended.

It's a strange, strange world.