Blaze tragedy shows how we should be using budget surplus

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2008, 12:00am

More information is coming through regarding the deadly fire in Mong Kok, on August 10, which cost the lives of two firemen and two tenants.

First of all we discovered that, at the current pace, it will take 10 years to check all older buildings in the city to ensure that they comply with current fire regulations. Now we find out that the fire brigade's radios are outdated and have insufficient coverage.

That this state of affairs exists in a city with a HK$120 billion budget surplus last financial year is incomprehensible. When it was announced that electricity account holders were to receive a further HK$1,800 electricity subsidy, many questioned if this was the best use of our tax dollars.

Now, in view of the fact that our firefighters with some outdated equipment to rely on are risking their lives in buildings that should have been already checked for fire hazards, we know that it was amoral to subsidise the electricity bills of hundreds of thousands of highly paid executives when projects that affect the safety of our emergency services and citizens in general are underfunded.

When officials went to the Legislative Council for approval of this unnecessary sweetener and the disastrous maid levy suspension, why did our representatives not ask for a list of unfinished and underfunded programmes? They should then have demanded that, rather than further line the pockets of tycoons, the budget surplus be spent on improving and upgrading as quickly as possible public services and general safety.

Of course we know why - it is an election year.

The administration wants to boost its profile so that voters choose safe candidates, and the political parties are afraid that opposing handouts to one and all will affect their popularity.

As we do not appear to have sufficient public income to ensure that our city functions at the level one would expect of 'Asia's world city', then incoming Legco candidates should pledge that, during the next term, handouts will be restricted to the genuinely needy. They should also promise that any budget surplus will be apportioned to speed up programmes that will improve our environment and standards in general.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan