PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 March, 2010, 12:00am

We must have sales tax in Hong Kong

It is depressing to read Anthony Cheung Bing-leung saying, in effect, that Hong Kong's 'high-land-price' policy is something we have to live with because the government is too scared to try changing it ('Relief from on high', March 10).

If one of the more thoughtful members of the Executive Council thinks this way, what hope is there for serious reform?

He claims that the government is helpless to stop property prices from rising further as tighter planning rules, mainland money and other factors tighten land supply. But look at the inefficient design of flats resulting from outdated building codes.

Look at all the land wasted on unnecessary roads.

You could build a district half the size of Sha Tin in the area currently used up by Disneyland. There is plenty the government can do to increase the amount of space for homes.

He also says that when the government proposed widening the tax base (which would reduce its reliance on land revenues), the public rejected a sales tax.

However, the government's proposal at that time ignored land revenues, suggesting that officials wanted to impose a new broad-based tax while keeping the existing invisible one represented by the 'high-land-price' policy.

What if the government explicitly proposed swapping the invisible land tax for a sales tax?

How would people react when they realised the social and economic benefits of a system where the government no longer had a powerful interest in preventing the community from having and using space?

A tax on all goods and services, rather than just on property, would be fairer and reduce housing prices, smooth out revenues and probably allow a wider range of businesses to flourish.

Last but hardly not least, we have the huge profits made by the property developers in this rigged market, where short supply gives them frightening pricing power.

Their profit margins have, at times, reached the equivalent of a staggering 9 per cent of our entire gross domestic product.

Think how much more affordable housing would be if they had to compete.

And that, of course, is the real problem that Mr Cheung and his colleagues in government cannot bring themselves to address.

The idea that the government can do little or nothing to prevent housing from rising in price is rubbish. But so is the idea that officials would put the community before the developers.

Dominic Quinnell, Central

Genuine need for HOS scheme

I am a university graduate who was born in the 1980s. I have repaid the loan I received to pay my tuition fees and have a stable job. This means I have some savings and can think about owning my own flat and getting married.

However, because of my salary level, I am not eligible to apply for public housing.

Meanwhile, the property market is booming with skyrocketing prices. Consequently, I cannot afford to buy any flats that are currently on the market.

I am not a property speculator; I just want a place to live. Therefore, I urge the government to relaunch the Home Ownership Scheme.

If it did, it should include revised conditions, such as having a longer period during which you are locked in to the contract [before the property can be resold].

This could put off speculators and encourage applicants who simply want an affordable flat.

Leung Ka-wai, Kwun Tong

Find rural route for marathon

There have been calls for a new route to be devised for next year's Hong Kong marathon in a bid to attract more spectators.

I disagree with those who want the race to go through the heart of the city.

I agree that it would be better if there were more spectators. Marathon runners face a severe challenge and it gives them a much-needed boost when there are huge crowds clapping and cheering them on.

With their heavy traffic, tall buildings and population density, parts of Central, Causeway Bay and Wan Chai are so severely polluted that the revised route that has been suggested would not be a good idea for the participants.

Even with cars off the road, air pollution levels can remain high.

We could see even more runners having to give up during the race because they had breathing difficulties.

I also do not think it would be good for Hong Kong's economy if there were even more disruption to the normal flow of traffic, especially in Central.

Retail outlets that are open for business along a revised route might suffer from the traffic ban.

Changing the route could lead to additional costs for the race organisers, resulting in a higher entry fee.

If we are to opt for a new route, why not try to find a suitable venue in a rural part of Hong Kong?

The air would be clearer than in the urban areas and there would be less disruption of traffic and local businesses.

So Ying-kin, Wong Tai Sin

Essential tool for students

I cannot agree with S. Liang ('No subsidies for entertainment', March 15).

Your correspondent does not think the government should provide internet subsidies to low-income families.

Whether the internet assists or distracts students from their studies is debatable. It really comes down to how you use it.

Students cannot be expected to depend on public libraries because demand on the use of internet service there is increasing.

Also, having to go to a library to do your homework is time-consuming.

According to government research, there are more than 10,000 students who cannot afford to have internet access at home.

This is an internet-driven age and pupils must be able to have easy access to computers.

Jack Leung, Kwai Chung

Bio-diesel crop ruins forests

I refer to the letter by Nigel Lam ('Lack of support for bio-diesel', March 19).

The demand for bio-diesel is responsible for the wholesale destruction of huge forested areas of Indonesia. The massive burning off of these precious forests creates smoke that blows all the way to Kuala Lumpur and lasts for months.

A non-food crop is then planted on the land and will be converted to fuel for export so Europeans can drive cars. This is the economic reality of mindlessly promoting bio-diesel.

Local action is different. You can legally sell and use bio-diesel in Hong Kong. No permit is required. You just cannot call it motor fuel.

Anyone can join the other cooking oil recyclers going door-to-door at restaurants, and re-process it for use in vehicles. No one is stopping us. The important point, however, for those who promote bio-diesel, is to pay attention to the worldwide ecosystem and do no harm.

Annelise Connell, Stanley

Problem solved by fewer outlets

I share Billy Cheuk Ka-lok's concern over the failure of the law to prevent the sale of cigarettes to minors ('Get tough on cigarette sales', March 13). However, we should stop blaming the stores for flouting the law.

Why should employees of the thousands of retail outlets that sell tobacco be willing to put up with verbal abuse because they refuse to sell cigarettes to under-age smokers?

As I said in my letter ('Law has failed to stop tobacco sales to minors', February 1), the best way to uphold the law is to reduce the number of outlets immediately.

This is the most effective step to prevent minors from getting cigarettes so easily. To allocate additional scarce resources to apprehend the guilty parties would waste taxpayers' money.

I hope the Tobacco Control Office will give serious consideration to my proposal.

Ang Ah-lay, Causeway Bay

Shocking case

I refer to the report '61/2 years' jail for teacher who preyed on boy, 12, in private lessons', (March 11). There have been a number of similar cases in Hong Kong. The people who commit these acts must be punished.

It shocks me a teacher could abuse his position and prey on his student. How can people who realise they have paedophiliac tendencies decide to become teachers? Surely, officials must come up with an effective system that identifies people working with children who might pose a risk. Schools also have a responsibility in this regard.

It is so sad when parents put their trust in people who they regard as professionals, only to unwittingly expose the child to danger.

Parents must make a point of communicating regularly with their children, so they can spot whether the child is upset and recognise that something is wrong. They need to teach their children to call for help if they are approached by someone whom they fear poses a risk.

Elaine Lam, Kwun Tong

Unfair subsidy

I agree with Crystal Zhong ('ESF does not deserve subsidy', March 17), but for a different reason. The English Schools Foundation is just another international school from a foreign country, in this case Britain, that has set up in Hong Kong.

Other nations' international schools in the city receive no subsidy from the Hong Kong government. Instead, they get subsidies from the governments of their home countries.

Why should the ESF be any different and get a subsidy from the Hong Kong administration, but nothing from the British government?

Peter Lok, Chai Wan