'Heritage' mansion perfect for a dim sum tourist hang-out

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 September, 2010, 12:00am

Just one more month and the Mid-Levels mansion King Yin Lei will be restored to its former glory.

SCMP, Sept 3

What former glory? This abandoned house in Hollywood faux style on Stubbs Road is an English architect's design from 1937 and has absolutely no heritage value for Hong Kong at all. None.

We declared it a monument two years ago because it is a pretty little building and strongly appealed to a number of people with a taste for a 1930s Hello Kitty school of architecture.

The reason we gave in to them is that civil servant Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor had just been promoted to the newly created post of Development Secretary and found it pleasant to have a public relations achievement to go with her higher profile. In this respect the decision was undoubtedly a blazing success.

But a monument? A heritage building? Why can we not just be honest about it and rename the Antiquities Advisory Board as the Save The Cute Little Buildings Fund. We could then also use the money to save some of TVB's film sets. They're cute, too. The earlier goal of preserving structures of historical significance has been thoroughly subverted anyway.

And as to what we'll do with it now, that's simple. It's right on the tourist trail to The Peak. We'll turn it into a high-volume eat house where tour groups can lunch on leathery factory-made dim sum dishes as an 'authentic' Hong Kong dining experience in an 'authentic' Hong Kong setting. The place is too far off the beaten path for anything but this charade and it has plenty of room for parking coaches.

Here is a question for you, Carrie. When you performed your piece of magic to transmutate this building from a derelict to a monument you said that the mysterious owner from whom you bought it had agreed, at his own cost, to repair all the demolition work he had begun. Did you keep him to that promise?

'It's time to consider strongly if the senior bondholders should bear some pain. The only group that should be totally protected should be the depositors.'

Finance professor (well, it would be) SCMP, Sept 3

It was actually a finance professor in Ireland who said it and he was actually talking about the Anglo Irish Bank, which bet too heavily on an Irish property bubble and now wants to dip into the Irish government's pockets for what could be almost its entire tax revenue this year.

No, it couldn't happen here ... not yet anyway, but, as we are swinging to the same way of thinking, don't be sure it could never happen.

I have an iron-clad prescription for making sure that it never does. What we will do is remove special protection from depositors. If the bank in which they make their deposits goes bust they will still be the first to get their money back, after wages and taxes are paid, but they will not be guaranteed full payment if the money is not there. They will have to accept a ratio of cents in the dollar.

I can think of no better way of ensuring that banks maintain fortress balance sheets and that they mean it when they say they are prudent. Depositors will keep them to it. We shall still want bank supervision but this is the best guarantee of all.

The best way of sending our banks the Anglo-Irish way, however, is to do what all of Europe and America are so busy doing at present, which is to nationalise one side of the banking system balance sheet and let private bankers still run the other side.

They nationalise one side of that balance sheet by guaranteeing deposits. The depositors then don't really care in which bank they place their deposits. These deposits are safe. All they look for is the bank with the highest return in deposit rates.

And commercial bankers are happy to accommodate them on the other side of the balance sheet by taking high return bets on such things as property bubbles.

If the bets succeed the bankers walk away rich. If the bets fail they also walk away, not quite so rich but there's always a next time if governments will continue making this mistake.

I do truly hope that the Irish public is not as thick-headed about this as Irish academics. You cannot divorce risk from investment, even as supposedly safe an investment as a bank deposit, without courting financial disaster. If a government insists on nationalising banks, it must nationalise both sides of the balance sheet or see the balance sheet fail.

But whether or not the government of Ireland has begun to recognise this under painful experience, ours in Hong Kong is far from doing so. We have just approved deposit protection to a level of HK$500,000 per deposit.

I'm glad sometimes that I can't see the future in detail.