Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2008, 12:00am

Democracy and the wealth of nations

Here's a question: what else can we learn from the Forbes list of the world's 10 richest people, aside from the fact that our own tycoon Li Ka-shing is not on it? Actually, the question should be directed at our rich folks and to Basic Law Committee member Wang Zhenmin. They'll learn a lot from studying the top 10 list - things that we ordinary folk already know.

This is what they will find: the world's 10 richest people are all - yes, all - from democratic countries. They are from the United States, India, Germany, Sweden, Mexico and Russia. OK, there might be some sniggers about Russia, but it's still a democracy. Aside from the top 10 - Li Ka-shing is number 11 on the list - the vast majority of the world's 1,062 billionaires are also from democratic countries.

So why are we linking wealth with democracy? Here's why: Mr Wang says Hong Kong's rich and famous are trembling at the thought of real democracy. We've always known that our wealthy class fears the working class. Hong Kong's rich are worried sick that a politically fairer society would rob them of their power and privilege. A retired mainland official actually confessed last year that our tycoons had run crying to China before the 1997 handover seeking a guarantee that their privileges would be protected.

Now we have Mr Wang saying the rich folks need many more years to adjust because they are afraid democracy will mean higher taxes for them, a loss of power, and Hong Kong becoming a welfare state. Well, they can shiver in their pants all they want. Hong Kong's democracy train is unstoppable. If our business leaders don't like it, there's a place they can move to just a short plane hop from here. It's called North Korea. There's no danger of democracy there.

Land of the free ... and the politically absurd

OK, now that we've struck a blow for democracy, let us warn you about what democracy can bring. It can sometimes bring absurdity, as the citizens of Los Angeles found out last week. The city council, in a mindless move, decided to debate a resolution banning murders for 40 hours. What were they thinking - that murderers would say 'Oh, there's a 40-hour ban' and stop killing? Common sense prevailed, and after a short debate members realised the silliness of it. What made the whole thing even more ludicrous was that it all happened on April 1 - but it was no joke.

If Seattle can levy 'green fees', why can't we?

Public Eye spent the past week in America, which is why this next item is also about the land of the brave and the free. While there, we were invited to talk on National Public Radio about Tibet and western double standards. But what really caught our attention were plastic bags. While our gutless bureaucrats dilly-dally about banning plastic bags and idling engines, the city of Seattle is marching boldly ahead with a plan to send every household a free reusable bag. City officials also plan to impose a 20 US cents 'green fee' on every plastic and paper bag and outlaw foam food containers by next January. Restaurants will be banned from using plastic food containers by 2010.

The question is this: if Seattle can do it so quickly, why can't we? Why must we have endless public consultations on something so simple? If the government can afford to kowtow to the wine lobby by cutting HK$560 million a year in wine taxes, surely it can afford to send every household a free reusable shopping bag? Sure, it's a gimmick, but the act alone would do wonders in heightening environmental awareness.

If, like us, you're fed up with the government dragging its feet, you can join us in sending a very strong message about how you feel. Repeat after us, and say it with fire in your belly: 'Delay no more!' There, doesn't that make you feel a whole lot better?