PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 February, 2009, 12:00am

Argument in favour of levy is not convincing

Lim Kwok-zu said my letter on plastic bags ('Delay of plastic bag levy law should lead to major rethink', February 12) reflects 'a blatant disregard for the environment'. I wonder if he has really understood what the plastic bag levy debate is about ('Critics of plastic bag levy fail to grasp enormity of the problem', February 17).

Although Mr Lim is entitled to his opinion on the plastic bags levy, he seems to be unaware of the positive contribution from plastic shopping bags in safeguarding our environmental hygiene.

Most people have been using these as bin liner substitutes.

Following those facts and figures presented in these columns by various critics of supermarket plastic shopping bags, it is not difficult to recognise that such bags are not the cause of our environmental problem. They should not have been singled out and regressively taxed, out of all things made of plastic.

Mr Lim said the argument should not be about 'how many' plastic bags are being used or reused. But one major argument in the debate was how this bag levy could cut down on the number of plastic supermarket bags 'abused' by the public.

When the levy proposal was floated in 2007, the then secretary for the environment Sarah Liao Sau-tung said the levy would cut 'one billion' bags a year.

When it turned out that only 770 million bags a year (0.3 bags per person per day) were what the Hong Kong Retail Management Association could give out to shoppers it is mind-boggling to think just how one could save more bags than are actually available for being given out.

Worse still, the Environmental Protection Department insists that we have disposed of three of these plastic bags per person per day.

Its figure is clearly over-inflated.

In his letter Mr Lim conjured up a mental picture of plastic bags clogging our drains, polluting our rivers and beaches, killing our wildlife and getting into the food chain.

I have come across such descriptions before, during some campaigns against plastic bags by some pressure groups.

However, frankly where in Hong Kong do we actually have such an inflated plastic bag problem?

Alex F. T. Chu, Clear Water Bay

Get tough on structures

The Buildings Department has proposed relaxing the law regarding some illegal structures on buildings.

I would be disappointed if this proposal was implemented.

I can see that the proposal to allow house owners to do minor alterations of a building's structure should be allowed, because the department has limited resources for monitoring purposes and so is unable to deal with a problem that is growing and, in my opinion, has become more serious.

However, these illegal structures can pose a risk to pedestrians on our streets and residents of estates where these structures exist. They can also be bad for the environment and create sanitation problems.

I, myself and my family suffered from an unauthorised structure in the building where I lived.

A resident had built canopies that ruined our views and it was very noisy when it was raining heavily.

Because of this problem I thought it was going to be very difficult to sell the flat. I wrote to the Buildings Department, to the management office and to the incorporated owners of my estate.

Many people who are having problems with unauthorised structures cannot afford to get legal advice. I feel that relaxing the rules on such structures would be a bad idea.

I hope the department and the government spend time canvassing public opinion and decide on the rights and benefits of different people before making such a proposal government policy.

Flora Yau, Tai Po

Illinois senator should quit

Senator Roland Burris of Illinois has got to step down. This soap opera must end as soon as possible in the best interests of the nation.

Most Democrats say Senator Burris has got to go. I believe he should have never taken the Senate nomination from former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich in the midst of controversy which surrounded Mr Blagojevich. Since Senator Burris did not do the right thing to begin with are we naive to think he will do what is right now and step down?

The chances are [that after an investigation] the Senate may be forced to act.

Some politicians will stay in office as long as they possibly can to collect their six figure government salary for as long as possible. However, I do not think there is any dignity in hanging on.

J. Shaw, Atlanta, Georgia, US

Shareholding same since 2003

Albert Cheng's column regarding the proposed privatisation of PCCW ('The other minority', February 21) contains a false statement.

He wrote: 'David Webb has admitted he broke up his five shares into five votes. He could have scuppered the exercise had he been able to organise more people to act similarly, since the resolution was only carried by a majority of 549 votes.'

The article on - 'Vote-rigging plan for PCCW meeting', on February 1 reported evidence of a plan to register hundreds of people each with one board lot of shares to vote in favour of the privatisation. If Mr Cheng had read the article, he would know that, as part of the now-successful 'Project Poll', I have since 2003 held five registered shareholdings of two shares each in PCCW and other blue chips of the time.

There has been no change in those holdings since 2003 and I did not 'break them up' for the purpose of voting on the privatisation, nor did I seek to 'organise more people to act similarly' to 'scupper the [privatisation] exercise' as the article implies.

By demanding a poll (one-share, one-vote) on behalf of five shareholders, Project Poll succeeded in forcing blue chip companies to conduct shareholder votes on a poll rather than a show of hands. On January 1 the Stock Exchange Listing Rules made this compulsory for all listed companies.

Mr Cheng correctly states that vote-rigging of the headcount in a privatisation could work both ways, for or against a proposal. The headcount system in the schemes of arrangement, including privatisations, is unfair and should be abolished by amending the Companies Ordinance, as I have called for.

David M. Webb, Mid-Levels

High tax rise will not work

I agree that increasing the tax on tobacco can curb youth smoking.

This claim has been made by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank.

However, I do wonder why the Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention has proposed exactly doubling the tax ('Call for doubling of tobacco tax to stop young lighting up', February 18). Of course, if the increase in tax is too small, it will not act as an effective deterrent. Likewise, if it was too high an increase, it might be counter-productive.

High prices will undoubtedly discourage young people from buying cigarettes on which duty is paid. Instead, they might be tempted to buy cheaper, illegal cigarettes smuggled from the mainland. This will only help the triads, while poor cigarettes will only pose an ever greater health risk. More research is needed before deciding by how much to raise the tax.

Wong Pui-lam, Kwun Tong