The real threat to our hub status

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2007, 12:00am

A Guangdong official warns in 'Bridge hits bump over checkpoint locations' (March 6) that a delay in constructing the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge might affect Hong Kong's position as a transport hub. Despite this possibility, I believe that the proposed North Lantau Highway Connection needs to be critically re-examined with regard to its environmental impact and the effect it will have on traffic flow to the airport.

According to the Highways Department's website, a six-lane expressway from the bridge will either pass under Tung Chung in a tunnel or it will run on a viaduct past Cathay City and out over the sea, bypassing Tung Chung and Chek Lap Kok. Either way, it will join the North Lantau Highway to the east of Tung Chung.

A report published on the Hong Kong Institute of Planners' website notes that the environmental impacts will 'create major concern' among local residents. Given Tung Chung's topographical characteristics and the region's worsening air pollution 'the negative impacts ... would need very strong justifications', it argues. Factors requiring carefully assessment include air quality, the cumulative environmental repercussions (particularly on the Chinese white dolphin), the traffic implications and the visual impact.

Despite these concerns, the webpage of the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau presents the project as a done deal being 'pushed ahead'.

I do not oppose the project in principle, but one only needs to see the tailbacks in the northern New Territories to understand the volume of container traffic this new route will attract. Given that the bridge and the proposed 35km expressway leading to it will have no turn-offs, container traffic will be unable to avoid road blockages from accidents, border delays and breakdowns. An accident on the outbound expressway will almost certainly cause severe tailbacks on the North Lantau Highway. This highway and the Tsing Ma Bridge were not intended to handle all this extra traffic, and we can expect severe delays on the only road serving the airport.

I urge the government to reconsider the plans. Hong Kong's position as a transport hub will not be improved if the highway to the airport is compromised.


Take a deep breath

Edith Shih thinks the Queen Mary 2 lecturer John Reich should be required to prove that the derogatory comments he made about pollution in Hong Kong are true ('Open secrets and lies: all aboard the Queen Mary', March 7). If Ms Shih really requires proof, she might start by opening her eyes and taking a deep breath. A visit to some of the 6,000 runners forced to seek medical treatment during last week's Standard Chartered marathon might provide anecdotal evidence. Or she could consult the latest Chinese University of Hong Kong study finding a 'significant association' between concentrations of pollutants and hospital admissions for respiratory ailments.

Ms Shih proposes that the Queen Mary 2 be refused entry into the harbour for its 'arrogance'. There is no need. If nothing continues to be done to improve air quality, neither cruise passengers nor anybody else will want to come here.


Breathing easy

A number of people have complained of adverse effects of the air on their health. I returned to Hong Kong recently after a year in Australia, home of clean air. On landing, I did not get stinging eyes and a blocked nose, as letter writer James Warren says he did ('It's no wonder western expats are gagging to leave' March 5). This is despite the thick 'smog' present.

It seems most people are not affected. Might this be because it is mainly water vapour and not pollution? Perhaps the Hong Kong Observatory can throw some light on this. It might stop people denigrating Hong Kong about a non-existent condition.

YUN KWAN, Ho Man Tin

Analogy on the ball

The analogy provided by Thomas Choy's letter 'Best to stick with the solid goal scorer' (March 7) is perfect. Chelsea player Didier Drogba is a finisher, no doubt. But someone has to feed him the ball. It's the same for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United is the most visionary player in the English Football League. It's the same for Alan Leong Kah-kit in the chief executive election.

TONY YUEN, Coquitlam, Canada

Two years to volunteer

I refer to Alex Tam's letter urging the government to legislate for a minimum wage instead of promoting the voluntary 'wage protection movement' ('Clearly compromised', March 2). Under the scheme, launched last October, employers undertake to pay their cleaning staff and security guards no less than the relevant average market rates as published in the Census and Statistics Department's 'Quarterly Report of Wage and Payroll Statistics'.

The movement is making headway. We expect more employers and owners corporations to support this worthy cause in the months ahead as it gathers momentum and public awareness increases. If this voluntary compliance approach fails to yield satisfactory results by October next year, two years after its launch, the government has made it clear that it will legislate for a minimum wage for cleaners and security guards.

Employers or owners corporations interested in joining the movement are welcome to phone us or visit the scheme's website.

MATTHEW CHEUNG KIN-CHUNG, Permanent Secretary for Economic Development and Labour

The facts speak louder

I am surprised to read Ye Zaw Aye of the Myanmar consulate assert that the 'generals have been striving their best for their country and their people' ('Trust the generals', March 6). A report from the World Food Programme in 2005 stated that about 40 per cent of children in Myanmar were malnourished, despite its rich resources. In the same year, the generals imposed increased restrictions on UN and international aid organisations and on their access to vulnerable populations.

The army continues to commit serious human rights violations, including forced labour, against ethnic minority civilians during counter-insurgency activities. Forced labour is illegal under Myanmar law, yet it is required by the army.

Ye Zaw Aye further states that the generals 'are also very kind-hearted and optimistic in dealing even with dissidents'. According to Amnesty International, Myanmar has more than 1,100 political prisoners. They include hundreds of prisoners of conscience, held for peaceful political opposition. Prisoners of conscience are serving sentences of up to 106 years solely for peacefully exercising their basic rights. Amnesty has also received persistent reports of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners.

Opposition figures may be locked up for years without ever going to court. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar's political opposition, has been under house arrest for more than 10 years intermittently since 1989. She is held under a law which allows the authorities to detain people at home or in prison without ever charging them or bringing them to trial.

Claims that the Myanmar authorities are motivated by kindness and concern for their people are unconvincing, given the evidence of large-scale human rights violations in Myanmar.

SARAH CARMICHAEL, Amnesty International Hong Kong

Man of the people

Two recent articles have been highly critical of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: 'Wealthy flee Chavez's populist policies' (March 4) and 'Hugo Chavez - an irrelevant nuisance' (March 8). Both are full of the rhetorical language that many journalists and politicians use to try to discredit his Bolivarian revolution.

As the headline of the first story indicates, this revolution is a populist one - meaning popular and for the people. Yet the press and politicians, from US President George W. Bush to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, use it synonymously with dictatorship.

The story reports that many rich Venezuelans are fleeing socialism and moving to the US. I understand that people flee disease and warfare, as these may kill them, but nobody is fleeing socialism in Venezuela. As the article explained, those who are leaving are doing so to invest their money elsewhere as the government introduces fairer economic policies that will benefit the poor. We rarely hear of people 'fleeing' capitalism, even though there are 10 million Mexicans who have crossed the border to escape capitalist-induced poverty at home.

Since coming to power, Mr Chavez has done immeasurable good for ordinary Venezuelans, introducing free education and health care, setting up co-operative supermarkets and nationalising industry to put the wealth back in the hands of the people. But perhaps his greatest democratic triumph, which I have witnessed first-hand, has been giving real power to the people so that they may reclaim the dignity that decades of capitalism stole from them.

The author of the second article, Doug Bandow, was honest enough to admit that the US has funded coups against Mr Chavez and continues to try to oust him, but he also resorts to completely false allegations, saying: 'Venezuelan imperialism has proved no more popular than American imperialism.'

Does Mr Bandow not realise that imperialism requires a country to have troops on foreign soil? The US has 300,000 in 135 countries. Venezuela has none. Hardly the scenario of two competing empires that Mr Bandow would have us imagine.

Commentators like Mr Bandow may not like the words 'socialism', 'revolution' or 'popular', but the overwhelming majority who voted Mr Chavez into power for a fourth time obviously do.