MTR Corp is taking us for a ride in HK
The smiles of Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and the MTR Corporation chief executive, Chow Chung-kong, as they rode the MTR's new Shenzhen Metro Line 4 together ('MTR takes its tried and tested construction model to Shenzhen', June 17), show the widening gap between, on the one hand, government officials and corporate bigwigs and, on the other, the ordinary people of Hong Kong.
The article says the MTR Corp will venture into railway projects on the mainland and elsewhere, with foreseeable new streams of revenue in the coming years. The new Shenzhen Metro project is one such venture.
However, the Shenzhen fares are highly subsidised by the mainland authorities. To push profitability for the company in the long run, the MTR Corp intends to discuss with the authorities expanding its rail-plus-property model. The rail operator is understood to be asking for the right to develop its 30-hectare depot at the Longhua station.
I'm amazed that a trip from Shenzhen University to Luohu (18 stations) on the Shenzhen Metro costs only 6 yuan (HK$7.20). But the Shenzhen Metro warns of a '22 billion yuan deficit in the next five years despite government subsidies'. Will the MTR Corp lose money on the mainland if its rail-plus-property model is not expanded? The MTR Corp has a responsibility to its shareholders.
But what irks most Hongkongers who struggle to make ends meet is how the MTR Corp operates in Hong Kong. If a trip from Tuen Mun to East Tsim Sha Tsui cost only 6 yuan, that would be dream made in heaven. Yet, despite the rail operator receiving government land tenures, passengers pay commercial-rate fares in the city.
The day after Tang and Chow's ride, Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng defended the government's support for the MTR Corp's rail-plus-property development model ('Housing chief rejects quip by Beijing', June 18). Can Tang, Cheng or Chow explain why fares in Shenzhen are so heavily subsidised? Could it be that the central government sees that transporting millions to and fro at an acceptable cost is crucial to maintaining a functioning and orderly society? Yet in Hong Kong, fares have been raised as scheduled by the MTR and fiercely defended by our public custodians.
Only if it did not receive land tenures would it be justifiable for the MTR Corp to seek profits from fares, advertising and so on.
This is the picture we are seeing, and it isn't pretty.
James Wang, Ma On Shan
Truth about hazardous pesticide
I was alarmed and dismayed when I read in the story ('Warning over risk posed by pesticides', June 20) that a spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department claimed that pesticides like diazinon are 'allowed in countries such as Australia, Canada and Singapore'.
In fact, Canada in 2000 banned the sale and use of diazinon, triggering a recall of diazinon-based products by the manufacturers. Since 2005, more than 70 Canadian municipalities have enacted by-laws to make cities pesticide-free, and the sale and use of many other hazardous pesticides have been banned.
Even in countries like Australia and the United States, which allow diazinon, it is under very strict regulation, and the pesticide is banned for use in gardens and playgrounds because of its health hazards to humans.
The spokeswoman's statement was misleading, and in the case of Canada or Australia utterly a misrepresentation and a clear example of bureaucratic laziness, ignorance and, worse, negligence of public health.
Albert Chan Wai-yip, legislative councillor
First-time flat buyers need help
With regard to government measures aimed at controlling the rate of property price increases, I think it is important to bear in mind that for many ordinary Hong Kong families, their property is their single biggest investment and storage of wealth.
As the Hong Kong dollar has steadily declined in value over recent years, we should, at a minimum, expect property prices to increase at a similar rate. And as China booms, why should Hong Kong property owners not be allowed to participate in the benefits of that boom?
What the government did in 1997 by adding supply in the hope of stemming price rises was devastating to the Hong Kong economy, and I hope that the lessons from that disastrous experience have been learned and we do not have a repeat.
Increasing down-payment requirements for mortgages only benefits the rich, who can afford to keep on buying, while at the same time excluding many families who wish to buy an apartment for primary use but who cannot afford the deposit.
The solution I propose, which would benefit both existing owners and those who aspire to own, is that the government introduce a new home ownership scheme, where first-time buyers are granted finance, or permission to borrow with a lower deposit ratio. This would provide an advantage to people who do not yet own a flat, and yet not adversely affect prices of those who already have bought one.
Wayan Chan, Mid-Levels
Put an end to tenement fire tragedies
Was it really necessary that Lai Hok-man ('Special day brings tears for family', June 22) should have to lose his two small boys and pregnant wife in a fire in the old Hong Kong tenement building where they lived?
There are some 130,000 applicants on the waiting list for public rental housing, but the government plans to build only about 75,000 public rental flats in the coming five years.
The waiting time of many years is unacceptable for low-income families crammed into cubicles in old buildings which are inevitably fire traps.
In the past decade, the government has been progressively cutting down public expenditure on housing, in terms of the actual amount and as a percentage of total public expenditure.
Yet Hong Kong is an affluent city, and generally enjoys healthy annual budget surpluses.
Our failure to provide public housing to so many struggling families is indefensible.
Selina Lau, Central
A lot of puff about new cigarette tax
With the recently approved increase in duty on cigarettes, the oppression of an unpopular minority continues. The increase in duty will deny pleasure to the poor and presents an opportunity to organised crime.
Justifying anti-smoking measures on the basis of the burden on health services is the thin end of the wedge: the government can theoretically justify any restriction on risky behaviour: junk food, alcohol, paragliding, motorcycling - where does one draw the line? If Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok cares so much about public health, let him say something about air pollution, the most important public health issue in Hong Kong today.
Markus Shaw, Central
English teachers can co-operate
It is not useful to debate whether native English-speaking (NET) or local teachers of English offer our Hong Kong students 'more' (Andy Seto's letter 'Why local teachers can offer more', June 20). What is important is that we pool our strengths.
One of the strengths of Hong Kong's NET scheme is that it was always envisaged as a partnership between NETs and local teachers. In many of the fine schools that have taken the NET scheme to heart, this is how it operates. My students, my colleagues and I have enjoyed team teaching. Students have been able to achieve on a par with native-speaking students in NETs' home countries, if not better.
As the new senior secondary curriculum becomes a reality, the value of the partnership is becoming plain.
Perry Bayer, Ap Lei Chau
Blue-sky thinking on pollution
Visibility has been exceptional recently, with the hills of Kowloon seen in sharp relief against a blue sky. Nobody has been complaining about air pollution.
However, a similar number of vehicles are moving, cars are idling and the power stations are operating. The air is clear because the breeze is coming from the sea. So pollution must come mostly from the mainland.
Would those of you who blame Hong Kong for not doing enough reconsider? Until stricter measures are taken in Guangdong, Hong Kong will continue to be contaminated when the wind is from the north.
Chris Stubbs, Discovery Bay