Gang that can't think straight

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 February, 2007, 12:00am

A number of recent issues have highlighted the government's apparent inability to preserve the past, do what is right in the present or plan for the future.

First is the row, over the use of Fairview Park Boulevard in Yuen Long, between the residents of Fairview Park and nearby villagers and truck drivers. This has revealed the government's lack of careful planning with regard to the use of land and environmental preservation in the New Territories.

When Fairview Park was developed, it was agreed that Fairview Park Boulevard - a private road that belongs to the estate - could be used by villagers in nearby areas, largely agricultural lands.

Now, however, those plots have become container storage parks. The government has turned a blind eye to this land-use change, which has damaged the environment and created disturbances in the lives of nearby residents.

Logistics is considered one of the city's four major economic sectors: the government has pledged to develop the city into a logistics hub. Yet, it is puzzling why the government has failed for years to set up the most basic measures to make that happen, including improved cross-border transport and providing sufficient parking facilities for container trucks.

Worse, a lack of planning for land use in the New Territories has resulted in the building of a large number of skyscrapers and polluting industries on former agricultural land.

The Fairview Park conflict is just the tip of the iceberg. The best solution would be to develop the Lok Ma Chau loop region into container storage parks for cross-border logistics operations. This would not only strengthen economic efficiency and alleviate the pressure of cross-border transport, but also improve the environment and reduce the impact on residents in the New Territories.

Equally disturbing is the purchase of a racehorse by Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung with casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun, president of the Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong.

Mr Suen, his defenders and even critics of the purchase seem to have overlooked the fact that gambling is involved in purchasing and raising the racehorse. Any cash prize or revenue generated from the horse will be shared among its owners. Mr Suen's move is no different from doing business with the property tycoon. It is therefore hard to rule out the possibility of a conflict of interest.

I do not think Mr Suen's integrity and conduct should be called into question at all. But, as a senior government official accountable to the public, he had better disengage himself from the racehorse-raising group to safeguard his own reputation and ease public concern.

Recent food scares have aroused a lot of concern in the community. It is not easy to ensure food safety, as most of Hong Kong's foodstuffs come from mainland China. While Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok should not be blamed for the safety of the food supplied in the city, his readiness to deny the seriousness of each food scare - and to tell the public not to panic - is disappointing.

It is understandable that Dr Chow does not want food scares to intensify. But food safety concerns all citizens in Hong Kong. His action only makes people feel that he is trying to shrug off his own, and the food suppliers', responsibilities.

Finally, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's plan to replace edible buns with plastic buns - in the bun-snatching contest at the upcoming Cheung Chau Bun Festival - is ridiculous. The decision is said to be based on aesthetic and environmental concerns. But the contest is a cultural heritage event that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to Cheung Chau each year. The tradition and its appeal will certainly be lost if its original features can be changed at will.

The department has been striving to promote local cultural tourism in recent years. One wonders how its officials, given their ignorance in the matter of preserving cultural heritage, can be successful.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a directly elected legislator