Lai See

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am


When one side's interest is the only one that counts

The government is always telling us that it takes environmental issues seriously, while its actions tell a different story. We have seen this recently, with the chief executive saying that air quality objectives will be introduced in this Legislative Council session, but the Environmental Protection Department says there is no time allocated for the measures.

In another indication of the official attitude towards environmental matters, think tank Civic Exchange has drawn attention to the undermining of the department's expertise when the government in 2005 merged the roles of director of environmental protection (DEP) and permanent secretary for the environment (PSE).

As Civic Exchange's Mike Kilburn said in an article for the website CleanBiz Asia, the DEP was an environmental expert familiar with the technical and legal complexities inherent in presiding over the statutory environmental impact assessment mechanism.

The DEP was responsible for approving EIA reports and issuing environmental permits for projects. The PSE was concerned with formulating and delivering the administration's policy objectives and the post was held by a career civil servant who did not have the technical expertise of the DEP.

In 2005, the government merged the posts, citing cost savings.

The then-PSE said: 'The merger will achieve synergy between policy formulation and implementation, and is in line with the government's commitment to streamlining and delayering the decision-making process.' He went on to say it would 'improve service delivery and bring about efficiency gains in the area of environmental protection'.

The real effect has been a conflict of interest in the new PSE role, since the holder was both the regulator and at the same time beholden to political masters. The last professional DEP rejected the EIA for the MTR's Lok Ma Chau spur line in 1999, which the EIA appeal board upheld, much to the consternation of the government.

This is in stark contrast to the recent judicial review of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, where these conflicts became apparent. As Civic Exchange said in its submission to Legco's environmental affairs panel: 'The potential for conflict is especially acute where the government is the proponent for a designated project, as is frequently the case in major infrastructure cases.' The government has clearly weakened environmental protection rather than strengthening it, as it so often likes us to believe.

Not so SmarTone

SmarTone has begun readying its customers for life without Vodafone, its marketing partner for the past seven years. The double-header name will revert to SmarTone in December when the partnership ends. Vodafone has formed a strategic partnership with Hutchison Telecommunications. Chief executive Douglas Li assured users in September that services would continue unchanged because 'all application of technologies ... are our own'. That may be the intent, but the tone of the communications appears to be changing - becoming less smart. In an SMS to its customers it advised them of the change in its name in no uncertain terms. 'We name back to SmarTone.' This had one customer wondering if this was a taste of things to come.

All it takes is a simple phone call

We've been known to tut-tut at corruption and inefficiency across the border in the world's second biggest economy, but the world's biggest economy knows a thing or two about wasting money. Sikorsky Aircraft is in the frame this time, says a Bloomberg report. Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies, is accused of making excess profit on parts it sold to the US Army for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that it had bought more cheaply from the Pentagon's primary supply agency, the Defence Department's inspector general said. An audit found that Sikorsky charged the army US$2,510.06 apiece for six seat assemblies it bought from the Defence Logistics Agency for US$143.26 each. While we can see that Sikorsky may have been a little greedy, we're scratching our heads at why the Defence Department didn't pick up the phone and ring the Defence Logistics Agency. It would have saved a heap of bother.

An unexpected turnaround

Barclay's feisty chief, Bob Diamond, sometimes described as the 'unacceptable face of banking' appears to have undergone a dramatic conversion. In January, he told British MPs testily that the need for remorse and apology 'needs to come to an end'. But he struck a surprising note in a BBC lecture recently, where he said it was vital for banks to win back the trust of the public. 'Frankly, banks have done a very poor job of explaining how we contribute to society. Second, we have to accept responsibility for what has gone wrong. Finally, most importantly, we have to use the lessons learned to become better and more effective citizens.' This apparently has nothing to do with levels of pay and bonuses, a subject he studiously steered clear of.