Lai See

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 February, 2011, 12:00am

Conversational dinner charge in the name of operational costs

We seem to have caused some consternation within the Asia Society and the Harilela family with our piece last week on the coming 'Conversations with the Harilelas'. This is where distinguished local families are on show, so to speak, and explain to society gatherings how they got started and prospered.

The event is being held at the Harilelas' sumptuous pad in Kowloon Tong at a cost of HK$1,600 per head, somewhat higher than the HK$450 for its lunchtime events. The price, we were told, was to cover the cost of the food and because it was an 'exclusive' event.

We felt this detracted from the Asia Society's raison d'etre, which is supposed to be about widening understanding of Asia, rather than becoming another exclusive networking gathering.

However, it appears that we were misinformed by the society and, in fact, the Harilelas are hosting the event at their own expense. The society has sent us an e-mail in which it 'humbly requests' we run a clarification 'as both the Harilelas and the Asia Society's reputations have been incorrectly portrayed in the piece ... due to no fault of the SCMP but because of a misunderstanding ...'

So why then is there a charge for the event? The reason according to the society's e-mail, is that it will go towards covering the society's operating costs. This will enable it 'to contribute towards furthering the Asia Society's mission of educating people about the countries and cultures of Asia ...'

However, this does not change our view that the society is in danger of becoming another networking club. Maybe it should think about cutting those operating costs. The Royal Geographical Society is able to host its excellent talks for HK$100 for members or HK$150 for non-members. But then it does not have Hang Lung boss Ronnie Chan as its chairman.

Photo opportunity

A picture they say is worth a 1,000 words but the image adorning the front page of yesterday's Business section may be worth rather more. The photo of Sabrina Chao, vice-chairman of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport, did not go unnoticed in stock broking and shipping circles.

One stock broker confided to Lai See over lunch that the picture had excited no little expression of interest within his office. We had to point out that the company's stock was not listed though an offering had been considered in 2008. For the seriously interested we can reveal that the company comprises mainly tankers, gas carriers and bulk carriers.

Billionaires grow

Russia's economy is growing again if the rise in the number of its billionaires is anything to go by. Last year the number jumped to 114 from the 101 reached three years ago, according to Finans magazine.

The wealth of the country's 10 richest people increased 30 per cent to US$139 billion, the Moscow-based weekly said before the release of its annual rich list edition. That compares with the record US$221 billion held by the top 10 in 2008, before the global credit crisis.

Roman Abramovich, owner of London's Chelsea soccer club, is out of the top three for the first time. It took US$160 million to make this year's top 500, US$10 million more than in 2008, Finans said.

Last year, Vladimir Lisin, owner of Novolipetsk Steel, was the richest Russian, with US$18.8 billion putting him in front of New Jersey Nets basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Abramovich.

But Lisin is still some way off the peak set by Rusal's chief executive, Oleg Deripaska, who in 2008 had an estimated fortune of US$28 billion, making him Russia's richest person and the ninth richest in the world. Whose turn is it next?

India gives the real numbers

A lot of space in the world's press is devoted to comparing the economic growth rates of China and India as if it were some great competition. However, India's leading economist, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, has dismissed this as a 'silly obsession', arguing in The Hindu that India's growth of 8 per cent a year was far behind China at 10 per cent, but more importantly real living standards were far inferior in India.

Data from international organisations show China in front in most areas. Life expectancy at birth in China was 73.5 years compared with 64.4 years in India; Infant mortality rate is 50 per thousand in India and just 17 in China, and the under-five mortality rate is 66 for Indians and 19 for the Chinese. China's adult literacy rate is 94 per cent, compared with India's 65 per cent, he said.

'Almost half of our children are undernourished compared with a very tiny proportion in China,' Sen added. These are the important matters that should be compared, according to Sen.