Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2008, 12:00am

Vintage wine yes, vintage people no!

Whoopee, Hong Kong is going to be a wine trading hub! Our fine-wine collectors - casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun and Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen among them - will no longer have to empty so much from their fat wallets for their favourite vintages, thanks to the government's scrapping of all wine and beer taxes. This zero tax means the government will lose HK$560 million a year in revenue. Oh, by the way, the government says it can't afford to increase the old-age allowance because, if our elderly poor were to get HK$1,000 a month each, the bill would soar to HK$14 billion a year in 25 years time. That's a lot of money, but do you know how much the government can save over the same 25 years if it didn't scrap beer and wine taxes? Just multiply HK$560 million by 25. That's right - exactly $14 billion, the same amount the government says it doesn't have to cover an increase in the old-age allowance. What a coincidence. But hey, now is not the time for guilty consciences. Let's share a toast instead with the wine industry, which will now be able to pocket even bigger profits. Cheers!

How about a bit for the consumer?

We couldn't help but notice that when Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah scrapped all beer and wine taxes he didn't feel the need to at least nudge sellers into doing the right thing - passing the savings on to consumers. He instead took at face value the self-serving claims of the wine industry that zero taxes will create new jobs and business. What kind of jobs? The kind that pays HK$6,000 a month for working 10 hours a day, six days a week? We already have plenty of those. What kind of new business? The kind that makes fatter profits for our wine sellers who last year refused to pass on the halving of taxes until Legco shamed them into doing so? Wine and beer traders have promised to do the right thing this time round. Yeah, right. They'll cut prices for sure - some have already done so - but that's only because everyone is watching. Expect prices in bars, restaurants and supermarkets to creep back up when public attention shifts. And if you ask why, they'll throw dizzying numbers at you about currency fluctuations, runaway overheads and inflation. But we won't be hoodwinked. We'll be waiting and watching. Then we'll be naming and shaming.

Shocking times for poor old CLP Power

What to do with CLP Power? The company is feeling sorry for itself because last year's profit dropped to just HK$9.39 billion. Maybe we're all to blame. Maybe we've been too mean in giving the company a monopoly all these years for just all of Kowloon, the New Territories and Lantau. We should have been more generous. And CLP chief executive Andrew Brandler is 'not entirely happy' with new government rules affecting the company's monopoly. Its guaranteed yearly profits will drop to just 9.99 per cent return on assets, so we won't have to pay such high electricity bills and its power generating plants will have to spew out cleaner air so we all won't have to choke as much. We know that's terribly unfair to CLP and we're truly sorry. But here's our advice to the company: get over it.

Obama and a question of denial

Here is something you might want to ponder. We all know the United States loves to brag about its religious freedoms. We have also seen how it lectures other countries that are intolerant of different faiths. So how come black presidential candidate Barack Obama is finding it politically necessary to deny claims that he is a Muslim and that he was sworn in as senator using a Koran instead of the Bible? Both claims are false, but even if they were true why should it matter in his run for president of a religiously tolerant country? Perhaps some of you could enlighten us.