Lai See

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2011, 12:00am


It's definitely time for some 'clear the air' talks

The Environmental Protection Department had a letter published in yesterday's South China Morning Post in which it sought to 'clarify' some of the air quality issues that we've raised over the past few months. The letter's initial point is that 'improving air quality sits at the heart of the government's environment policy'.

If that is the case, you have to wonder why it is that the Ombudsman upheld a complaint earlier this year saying the government was dragging its heels over setting new air quality objectives (AQOs). It's been two years since the government concluded its public consultation. The Ombudsman urged the government to set out a timetable and explain to the public the progress and difficulties. That would be an interesting exercise. Let's see, problems of dealing with franchised bus companies, difficulties of getting environmental impact assessments approved for government infrastructure projects, and so on.

In its letter, the EPD produces a list of 'improvement measures' without indicating how effective they have been. It makes great play of reducing the levels of sulphur dioxide, which it achieved by forcing the power companies to fit scrubbers. It's now on the rise again, thanks to the marine sector. While it is good that it has been sharply reduced, it doesn't impact on us as much as roadside pollution, which is getting worse. Many other measures have had a negligible impact.

The government tells itself air quality is not really a problem, since Hong Kong has one of the world's highest rates of life expectancy. This, however, is a lagging indicator. At the other end of the scale, the number of children with respiratory complaints seen by paediatricians has risen dramatically. But fortunately for the government, they don't belong to a functional constituency and can't vote.

Failing the memory test

Last week, Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung told the Legislative Council that Hong Kong had no need for an archive law and that damning criticism of the government's lamentable efforts to look after public records by the Audit Commission could be addressed by the administrative measures it had put in place.

He clearly has no idea of the enormity of the scale of incompetence surrounding the management of Hong Kong's records. He would do well to read the report released yesterday by the Civic Exchange called The Memory Hole: Why Hong Kong Needs an Archive Law. It's a comprehensive survey of the issues surrounding the management of public records. It also details the appalling, almost wilfully negligent manner in which records are 'managed' in the city. The report notes that the Hong Kong SAR Government prides itself on 'maintaining high administrative standards and providing the public with efficient services', which is achieved through 'performance pledges', 'benchmark pledges' and so on. Yet none of these pledges apply to the Government Records Office. 'This structurally-embedded lack of professionalism affects both the GRS' internal management and its effectiveness as providing professional direction, advice and direction for B/Ds [Bureaus and Departments],' the report says, adding that 'the level of archives and record management expertise within the HKSARG is declining'.

The effect of this is that records are not being kept. Huge amounts are being destroyed without being properly vetted. It means the work of historians will be severely frustrated. But the government cannot even provide records for events that occurred this year. Record keeping in Hong Kong is a shameful shambles, but is it due to structural incompetence or deliberate neglect?

'Hijacked' on Facebook

We've seen bizarre Facebook stories involving individuals, but now it's infiltrating the corporate sector. Reuters reports that German drug maker Merck KGaA has accused a US rival Merck & Co of hijacking its Facebook page and said it plans to sue to get it back. Merck KGaA asked a New York judge to force Facebook to turn over information to help determine how the German company lost the page,, and the ability to administer it. 'Because Facebook is an important marketing device, the page is of great value to Merck, and its misappropriation is causing harm to Merck,' Merck KGaA said. 'It is not clear how that happened or who is at fault nor ... is Facebook providing clear information about what happened.'

According to Merck KGaA, the Mercks became separate companies under the Treaty of Versailles, each owning rights to the Merck trademark in different geographic areas, as part of Germany's reparations after the first world war.