PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2011, 12:00am

ESF must accept level playing field

Letters in support of the English Schools Foundation's (ESF) subvention are written characteristically without regard to relevant facts and their moral significance.

Jonathan Leung ('ESF schools contribute to international character of city', September 5) omits the fact that 35 per cent of the ESF's subsided places are occupied by selective non-residents who are not entitled to public subsidies.

Despite his predilection for 'international' character, he seems unaware that international norms censure linguistic discrimination such as that perpetrated by the ESF, and which is outlawed in all native English-speaking countries.

Richard Di Bona's complaint about the government not providing adequate educational opportunities in English, an official language, shows his disregard for Hong Kong's internationally acclaimed universal education ('ESF fills role government should play', September 2). English is the medium of instruction of many local schools. Local secondary graduates readily gain admission to native English-speaking universities overseas and satisfy their language requirements.

Local schools prepare students for public examinations which are markedly more stringent than the overseas exams taken by ESF students. That's why ESF students don't take local exams whereas local students readily take overseas exams.

The ESF's popularity is due largely to its extraordinary staff benefits and unusually student-friendly programme. Its hyped 'international' appeal is warped and vacuous. Social justice requires that the ESF, a subsidised institution, must align its staff benefits and admission practice fairly with social norms.

Mr Di Bona should realise that the English which the Basic Law provides as an official language is local English and not native English, just like Cantonese, which is local Chinese, is the de facto official Chinese language of Hong Kong. If local English fails to become socially functional like Singlish in Singapore, the use of English as an ancillary official language will decline naturally and should discontinue in 2047.

Hong Kong will always be Cantonese-speaking because the Chinese are not hegemonic like the English who have obliterated the Celtic and the Romance languages in Britain.

Promotion of native English will render Hong Kong an accomplice in the hegemony of the English language. We need a unified language policy for minorities of various mother tongues.

The objective of public education is to promote social coherence which can't be achieved if we continue the divisive policy of the bygone colonial administration and segregate our students into local English schools, native English schools, schools for non- native English-speaking minorities, and so forth.

Cynthia Sze, Quarry Bay

Puzzled by opposition to English

As a non-native English speaker I am often baffled by the anti-English sentiments in some quarters of Asia's world city.

Furthermore it is fascinating to see that while English has an aura of 'cool' to youngsters all over the world (including mainland China) this does not seem to be the case here.

I foresee that in 10 years' time the whole world will speak (a sort of) English except for one pocket in the southeast of China: Hong Kong.

Josephine Bersee, Mid-Levels

Maoist party in Nepal is not terrorist

I refer to the report ('Nepal's Maoist party stays on US terrorism list', August 31).

Although I am aware that there is no universally agreed definition of terrorism, I would say it is not appropriate for the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to be on the list.

If groups like this are included on the list, then it makes it more difficult to effectively fight genuine terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda. Nepal's Maoist party is a political party and it is committed to the nation's well-being. It has joined with other parties and accepted the democratic process. Given that the US supports democracy around the globe, it should appreciate what the party has done in agreeing to be part of that democratic process.

Tanka Chungbang, Tsuen Wan

Incandescent bulb ban is a bad idea

In his 2009-10 policy address, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced a series of measures to promote a low- carbon economy. Among the proposed measures for enhancing energy efficiency was the distribution of cash coupons for compact fluorescent lamps to residential electricity account holders.

I trust the policy was proposed in good faith with an aim to promoting environmental protection.

However, the administration's move to help phase out incandescent bulbs backfired. It was suggested there was a potential conflict of interest for Mr Tsang, as an in-law was involved in [an energy-saving] light bulb business. The policy was shelved in September last year.

Now the Environment Bureau wants to revive this issue with a consultation paper on restricted sale of the energy- inefficient incandescent bulbs. But instead of rewarding people who opt for compact fluorescent bulbs, it will punish those who manufacture incandescent brands.

Compact fluorescent bulbs use about 25 per cent of the electricity of the incandescent bulb, but the latter has no mercury. Each fluorescent bulb has about 4 milligrams of mercury. It is a toxic heavy metal that can interfere with the development of children and fetuses and may cause a wide range of health issues in adults, including brain, kidney and liver damage.

Until we have in our hands energy-efficient lighting sources that are also safe to manufacture, operate, and dispose of, we should use the best solutions we have available now. I would prefer a gradual change to the compact brands. A total ban on incandescent bulb sales is not advisable.

Lam Wai-leung, Ma On Shan

Grading of Yu Yuen explained

I refer to your editorial ('Our heritage needs better protection', September 6) which stated that the Antiquities and Monuments Office downgraded Yu Yuen to Grade 2 because of its poor condition.

I wish to clarify that the downgrading is not for that reason.

The administrative grading system of the Antiquities Advisory Board dated back to 1980.

In the past, the grading of historic buildings was based on the historical and architectural merits of the buildings concerned. Yu Yuen was accorded a Grade 1 status by the board in 2002 on the basis of its historical and architectural merits under the prevailing grading system at that time.

Having regard to the latest overseas experience and increasing local interest in heritage conservation, a new grading mechanism was established and endorsed by the board in November 2005 for grading historic buildings according to a broader range of criteria, namely, historic interest, architectural merit, group value, social value/local interest, authenticity and rarity.

Since December 2009, the board has been reviewing the grading of 1,444 historic buildings in Hong Kong, including that of Yu Yuen.

Having regard to the assessments of the overall heritage value made in accordance with the six new criteria by an independent expert panel, the board accorded a Grade 2 status to Yu Yuen in May 2010.

By definition, a Grade 2 historic building is of special merit, and efforts should be made to selectively preserve. Thus, the change in the grading of Yu Yuen was due to the adoption of a broader range of assessment criteria in the 2009 review, and not because of its poor condition.

Vivian Ko, commissioner for heritage

Second thoughts about HSBC

As a satisfied customer in Hong Kong, I was always a bit surprised about the negative sentiment around HSBC and its rather dismal share performance.

However, when I relocated to the United Arab Emirates this summer and opened an HSBC Premier account there, everything changed. From the very beginning, the quality of the local service was shambolic. Problems included data processing errors, lost documents, and, worst of all, having my credit card suspended without any reason. Local HSBC staff were unhelpful and unmotivated.

They say, one should never buy shares without trying the company's product first. In this sense, HSBC is a clear sell.

Stephan Engel, Abu Dhabi