PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2007, 12:00am

Airline snacks no substitute for a proper lunch

Your correspondent Rob Grool, 'Full-fare airlines not so perfect' (April 24), mentions lost luggage as one of the failings of the full-fare airlines. As my family and I are regular economy-fare passengers on Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Singapore airlines, I'll mention another: if you travel on their flights, prepare to go hungry.

On trips to Australia and Europe, when I usually take a day flight, I am presented with a small, stodgy breakfast, just after takeoff, consisting of egg, sausage, a stale roll and juice. It's not only small, but in these health-conscious days, the airlines should try harder to provide other choices, such as muesli.

After breakfast, passengers wait seven hours or longer for another meal. There's no lunch - unless you count the snack bag handed out, containing an apple, three small chocolate bars and a bottle of water. As compensation for the lost lunch, instant noodles are available at all times, but this hardly replaces a proper meal.

For the starving passengers, dinner usually arrives about one hour before the plane begins its descent and they are forced to eat quickly as staff hover, waiting to clear the trays before landing. If you're lucky, your choice of main course won't have run out, but even then you get an artery-clogging meal with rich sauces and sweet cakes. I know I could request a low-fat meal but doesn't everyone need one, so why not provide it?

For the relatively high prices on these flights, sometimes upwards of HK$6,000, surely it's not too much to ask for a proper lunch and healthier food.

Chris Cummins, Pok Fu Lam

Real culprits in ASTRI scandal

The resignation of Robert Yang Jih-chang as chief executive of the Applied Science and Technology Research Institute Company (ASTRI) is most unfortunate for Hong Kong. He was hired to do technology, but was forced out by administrative issues.

I have sat through many seminars conducted by ASTRI staff members and feel sure they are on the right track and could have much to offer Hong Kong's semiconductor industry.

What ASTRI is achieving far outweighs its administrative mistakes and the teams, which take time and money to build up, should not be allowed to disintegrate and their efforts go down the drain.

Who should really be held accountable for administrative mistakes? How about the many highly paid staff members who were hired for their administrative abilities? Why did they not detect those mistakes and nip them in the bud? They should stand up and be counted.

What happened was a classic illustration of Parkinson's Law, when work expands to fill the time available.

Also, the press and public knew something about fung shui, but little about technology, hence it became a fung shui issue. Can we expect our leaders in innovation and technology to be more enlightened, to see through the fung shui haze and be sufficiently knowledgeable technology-wise to publicly reaffirm ASTRI's achievements? It is easy enough to allow the technical team to take the blame, thus saving the jobs of the overseers and placating the public. But, it is so unfair.

Losing this team will cause Hong Kong's technology momentum to stall, and it will be a long time before another competent team dares to come to work under this weak framework.

Will the fired ASTRI team members suffer? Only temporarily. I can see them being snapped up by places such as Singapore, Shenzhen and Shanghai.

Professor Joshua Wong,

president, Hong Kong Semiconductor Industry Council

Rethink needed on raising funds

Many problems in the world today are due to a shortage of public and research funds.

Governments need this money but find it costly and burdensome to shoulder loans and interest payments while levying additional tax.

Launching a new international currency to be used alongside local currencies may correct this problem. The UN could set up a new monetary authority to print the money. This could then be introduced into circulation by spending it on public works. Its circulation and acceptance could be hastened by cutting direct tax by half on people and businesses for two years, while government expenditure was funded (partially) by the new money.

Its exchange rate with the US dollar would be fixed at one to one, while other currencies would be rated according to their rates with the dollar. Each government would be required to print an additional quantity of its own national currency and surrender it for the new international currency.

The new monetary authority would then keep stock of these domestic currencies as some form of reserve. The annual supply of the new money would be 10 to 15 per cent of the global gross domestic product in the first two years. If all goes well, the tax waivers could continue. The risks are inflation and accelerated depletion of oil, which could be controlled by adjusting money and credit creation and by conservation measures and fully funded energy research.

Wong Hon-sum, Central

MTR fare cap misleading

Legislator Mandy Tam Heung-man, in her letter 'Government should explain rail merger fare-adjustment plan' (April 25), states that 'under proposed legislation, [the MTR Corporation] will have an almost free hand to decide fares'. This is misleading.

Subject to prior consultation, the MTR Corp has had complete autonomy to set fares since it was floated, and prior to that. The government now wants the MTR Corp to agree to fix future fare adjustments - up or down - at inflation minus a productivity factor, removing the autonomy which it promised 600,000 investors who subscribed to the initial public offering in 2000.

In the event of deflation, the MTR Corp would even be forced to cut its overall fares. Within the proposed cap, fares on individual routes could be varied by plus or minus 10 per cent, but could not be raised if the overall fare adjustment was negative. The ability to vary route fares would allow the MTR Corp to adjust for some variations in demand, but would not allow the average fare per passenger across the system to increase by more than the 'inflation-minus-X' cap.

At the same time as capping fares, the government wants to squeeze the MTR Corp's profits by charging an ever-increasing share of Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation revenues as a lease payment for renting KCRC assets over the next 50 years. MTR Corp minority shareholders, who have a veto right over the proposal, will not allow their heads to be placed in this vice.

The MTR Corp, which is controlled by the government, has spent the past few weeks push polling customers who, of course, would like lower-cost travel, while ignoring the fact that minority shareholders see the proposal as value-destroying and will vote it down.

Meanwhile, the government continues to subsidise road-based competitors with billions of dollars in exemptions from fuel duty and virtually free use of the roads on scarce land. This is, indeed, socialism with Hong Kong characteristics.

David Webb, Central

Singapore-style democracy

Singapore's Deputy Consul-General Darryl Lau is obviously very proud of the People's Action Party's 48-year dominance in parliamentary elections, as he has mentioned this twice in letters ('Democracy and Singapore', April 18, and 'Understanding Singapore', April 25).

What he chose not to mention was how the party threatened to starve constituencies of public services to punish voters for electing opposition candidates. This is exactly what makes Singapore so different from others - Mr Lau calls it democracy. Others would refer to it as mafia-type tactics.

Andrew Tay, Causeway Bay