Donald Tsang

Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 November, 2010, 12:00am

Can't stop idling? Then let's ban breathing

You all must remember Public Eye's Auntie Ah Chun, the nice old lady with the toothless cackle down at the Tin Shui Wai housing estate. She says she knows how to fix this mess over banning idling engines. Like everyone else, she doesn't want to breathe in the filth that vehicles with idling engines spew out. But now that taxis, school buses and tour coaches have all won exemptions from the ban, making it meaningless, Auntie Ah Chun says the only solution is to turn the ban around. If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain, so to speak. If taxi drivers and others won't stop spewing filth, then the people must stop breathing it. That's right; impose a ban on breathing instead. The police will slap fines on anyone caught breaking the ban. They themselves will, of course, be exempted; they need to breathe on the job. Politicians worried about a voter backlash will no doubt demand that children and little old ladies be exempted, too. That will naturally spark exemption demands from taxi drivers, who'll argue they need to breathe to leave their engines idling to spew out the dirt that led to the breathing ban in the first place. If enough people demand exemptions, it'll show most don't really mind breathing filth. And if they don't mind, then the idling engine ban becomes unnecessary. Auntie Ah Chun broke happily into her toothless cackle when we agreed that was a great way to solve the problem.

Magistrate gives us price of a life: HK$233,000

How much are six lives worth? Magistrate Abu Bakar bin Wahab has set the price at HK$1.4 million. That's HK$233,000 apiece. He studied the facts of the case and ruled that's how much each life was worth. You know the facts, too. Six workers plunge 17 floors down a lift shaft to their deaths at the International Commerce Centre last year while it was under construction. Three companies plead guilty to 49 safety violations in exchange for the government dropping another 32 charges. Sanfield Building Contractors - the main contractor - had 101 previous convictions. Those are the numbers: six dead workers, 81 safety violations by the construction companies, 101 previous convictions, HK$233,000 per life. Working the numbers must have been as numbing for Wahab as it must have been for the workers plunging 17 floors down a lift shaft. But they're dead. They'll never know they were worth HK$233,000 each. Still, we all know. We have a mammoth reminder that rises 118 storeys into the sky - the city's tallest building. Six dead workers, worth HK$233,000 each, for an iconic building. Fair trade. The lawyer for Sanfield, Clive Grossman, put it all into perspective. He told the court some tenants already occupying ICC had complained about dust. That made it urgent for the doomed workers to clear construction waste from the lift shaft. The customer is always right, of course. You don't want them breathing dust, do you? After all, they're paying top dollar for their office space. Wonder why the government didn't appeal since the maximum penalty is half a million for each of the offences - not the HK$30,000 average that was handed out - and six months in jail? Maybe the bureaucrats felt Grossman had a point about the urgency of clearing dust.

Enough with the talk; it's time to act on bubble

Do it, for goodness sake. Don't just say it. For weeks Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and Monetary Authority chief Norman Chan Tak-lam have been taking turns talking tough on steps to fight a property bubble. The bubble is already here, gentlemen. And you're scaring no one with your tough talk. Prices have shot through the roof. No one can afford to buy anything except rich mainlanders and speculators. More hot money is coming in, further inflating the bubble. So please zip the lips and get on with it. Or we'll put a pin to the bubble.