Pressure mounts on bureau to alter 'unfair' light-bulb scheme

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 October, 2009, 12:00am

Pressure was building on the Environment Bureau yesterday to modify a light-bulb cash-coupon scheme criticised as flawed and unfair.

Under the HK$240 million light-bulb scheme, all power users would have to pay 0.5 cent or 0.6 cent per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to finance HK$100 cash coupons to be distributed to each of the 2.4 million residential power users to encourage use of energy-friendly bulbs.

But political parties agreed that the scheme had to be reassessed, though the bureau had still failed to spell out the implementation details amid a conflict-of-interest controversy involving the chief executive.

Allegations have been made that Donald Tsang Yam-kuen intentionally favoured an in-law's light-bulb business when he launched the coupon scheme.

Anthony Mok Kam-chuen, the father-in-law of Tsang's elder son, is one of the biggest distributors of compact fluorescent lights manufactured by Philips, which has up to half the market, leading to allegations that the scheme could have favoured him. Mok yesterday published a statement, saying his green-light-bulb business generated less revenue than the incandescent light bulbs and other lighting products.

'There are both loss and gain under the cash-coupon scheme and there would be offsets in the actual revenue that are far less than the public imagined,' he said.

Mok also said he had never through private or formal channels learned about the scheme from any official or the chief executive before the policy address.

As for the light-bulb scheme, the Liberal Party grumbled that it was unfair for the commercial sector, which would not benefit.

Legislator Ip Kwok-him, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said his party also had reservations about it.

'We see many loopholes in this scheme. Why should an increase in electricity fee accompany the coupons? Are there any limitations on the use of coupons? Yau should clarify all these to the public,' he said, referring to Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah.

The League of Social Democrats even threatened to seek a judicial review, saying the profit regulatory regime for power firms would be violated.

'It is the livelihood version of Article 23 [about national security] of the Basic Law, and people are extremely unhappy they are forced to pay,' lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip said.

The Civic Party, which had proposed offering a HK$200 cash subsidy to each household for green light bulbs, said making the public pay for the scheme was problematic.

Retailers who wanted to get a slice of the market would have to register with the government and pledge to stop selling incandescent light bulbs and collecting used light bulbs. The coupons will expire at the end of 2011.

To promote the use of fluorescent light bulbs, some countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada, the Philippines and Argentina, have endorsed bans on the sale of the incandescent bulbs.