Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am

Greed guided those baying for bailout

Let's get this right. World financial markets have crumbled, investors the world over, big and small, have lost large chunks of their savings, but Lehman minibond holders want to come out of this global meltdown without losing a dime of their money?

The gall of it. Take with a large pinch of salt their ridiculous claims that banks tricked them into believing they were buying something safe. Greed, not naivety, guided the investment decisions of most of them. These are people with millions of dollars to invest. It takes a lot of smarts to make millions of dollars. When told minibonds were more profitable than bank deposits they rushed headlong into them. About 33,000 investors poured an incredible HK$11 billion into the minibonds. That spells greed.

Tens of thousands have now jumped on the bandwagon claiming they were duped into buying the bonds. If that's true, then we must really be a city of idiots. Official investigators have so far found only a small number who may have been victims of overzealous bank staff. Sure, bail out the unsuspecting old folks who really didn't understand what they were buying, and those who were really not told of the risks.

But why should the rest cash in too? Why should they get 100 per cent of their money back when all other investors have lost big? They should thank their lucky stars that some banks, under government pressure, are willing to buy back the bonds at current value. If their demand for a full refund is met, what's to stop other investors from claiming they too were duped into buying stocks that have now lost much of their value?

The Lehman bond holders have fooled the politicians with their sob stories but they won't fool Public Eye. Our politicians see votes in siding with the common people. But common people don't have millions in the bank. If the politicians really want to champion the ordinary folks, then go help the tens of thousands of families with a household income of just HK$3,000 a month. It will be a more rewarding exercise than putting back into the pockets of greedy investors the millions they have lost.

A restaurant by any other name

Have our courts gone crazy? First we have a judge who ruled in favour of dogs that drive you mad with their non-stop yelping and now we have another who says a restaurant is not really a restaurant if it sells a lot of booze. Huh?

By that same logic, a bar is probably not a bar if it doesn't sell enough booze. Mr Justice Anselmo Reyes' ruling involves three establishments that claimed they made more money from alcohol than food and so should be exempt from the smoking ban that applies to restaurants.

It is true that our smoking ban law contains a really stupid loophole that lets establishments off the hook until the end of next June if they're genuine bars. The loophole was included, at the insistence of the once arrogant but now humbled Liberal Party for big business, which got thrashed in last month's elections. Big business would rather sell cigarettes and keep the cash register ringing at bars than stop people from getting cancer. But all that aside, shouldn't judges uphold the spirit of the smoking ban law rather than the right of establishments to exploit the loophole?

This is how one of the three establishments involved describes itself on its website: 'The Bull & Bear has full catering facilities and serves full meals throughout the day such as bangers and mash, fish and chips and steak and ale pie catering to breakfast, lunch and dinner patrons.' That's not a restaurant? For goodness sake.

Many of these 'bars' operate a scam - full-blown restaurants during lunch that morph into bars in the evening. It's easy to expand on the scam - reasonably-priced set lunches but costlier evening drinks. This makes the alcohol revenue higher which then qualifies them for the smoking ban loophole. It's a nice little number, even Public Eye has to admit.