Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2010, 12:00am

Bureaucrats must pay for their blunder ...

Here are the facts: the government auctions off one of Hong Kong's most treasured heritage sites to the highest bidder. The buyer mangles the treasure. The historical hill it stood on is levelled. Century-old trees are chopped down. It is now a glitzy hotel and shopping mall for the wealthy. Ordinary people who cannot afford the prices can only peek at this people's treasure from the outside. Those are the facts. Maybe there is no reason to go inside the old Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui anyway. It looks more like a fake heritage building in a movie set. But just as Public Eye thought the bad taste in our mouth was finally gone, a new fact hits us, more than seven years after the site was sold. It turns out our bureaucrats did not properly measure the heritage treasure before selling it. The buyer, a subsidiary of Cheung Kong (Holdings), ended up with a sizeable chunk of free floor space worth big bucks. Yes, the people were short-changed by a lot of money. Go tell that to all those elderly men and women who must get up at the crack of dawn to collect discarded cardboard boxes and newspapers for a living because the bureaucrats will not help them. These are the bureaucrats who placed a greater priority on the highest bid than on the historical significance of the site, yet they could not even be bothered to protect the public's interest by checking its exact size first. Our bureaucrats - among the highest-paid in the world - simply relied on estimates by consultants. Who are these consultants anyway? The people have a right to know. How much were they paid? And who are the bureaucrats responsible for losing so much of the people's money? The government auditor is looking into the matter. That seldom leads to heads rolling, but heads must roll. If consultants were used, they must be made to pay for providing the wrong estimates. If the consultants were bureaucrats themselves, they must be fired. The public is owed a pound of flesh.

... and not hide behind gobbledygook

Here is how the bureaucrats explained the loss of so much of the people's money: 'The quoted land premium reflects the enhancement in the value of the land under the previous concept plan and the new concept plan.' Huh? Say again. Do you understand any of that gobbledygook? Why can't they just say: 'We screwed up'?

So, is the MTR playing a mean game?

What's this? The MTR Corporation, majority-owned by the government, is paying slave wages? That dirty little secret came out over the weekend when homeowners in housing estates managed by the railway operator protested against higher management fees. The MTR Corp wants to raise fees by up to 10 per cent, blaming it partly on the new minimum wage of HK$28 an hour. Does that mean it is not even paying that now to its low-end workers? At HK$28 an hour, you make less than HK$6,000 a month for eight hours a day, six days a week, 26 days a month. And the MTR Corp - majority-owned by the government - is not paying even that although it is rolling in money? Now we understand why Cafe de Coral and 7-Eleven are so mean with their wages. They are just taking a cue from the government.

Who to trust on a hot property?

Who to believe? Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah wants everyone to beware of buying a flat now. He warns buyers could get burnt if interest rates go up. But Cheung Kong Real Estate director William Kwok Tze-wa thinks otherwise. 'Quick, quick, quick. The world of speculation is welcoming you,' he urged online. 'If Hong Kong people do not buy, those rich people from the mainland should buy.' So, who to trust - a top bureaucrat or a property boss? Tough choice.