Development Bureau not up to the job
John Bowden, chairman of Save our Shorelines, is spot on ('Government Hill project destructive', November 27) and Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has the best presentation skills in the administration.
However, this does not mask the growing opposition to government plans to demolish the west wing of the Central government offices.
Mrs Lam presents her revamped plan as a balance between conservation and development. But she is blas?and (contrary to her statement) has not addressed public concerns, but merely fudged the issue. Down the years the scales have been weighed almost exclusively towards development, so there is now an intensified public demand for a coherent and comprehensive conservation policy to restore the balance.
It is bizarre that the Development Bureau should be responsible for heritage conservation as there is a most obvious conflict of interest. Being part of the finance branch, its onus is to 'follow the money'; this is evident in the case of the Central government offices.
Mrs Lam thinks administrative compromise is the solution to this knotty problem. However, as members of the Antiquities Advisory Board have pointed out, Government Hill should be treated in its entirety, not on a piecemeal basis. In most matters half a loaf is better than no bread at all, but heritage is an exception: it is a case of all or nothing. Unsatisfactory conservation compromises become a constant reminder to the community of the government's short-sighted perspective on heritages issues.
Examples such as the former headquarters of the Marine Police in Tsim Sha Tsui and the Wan Chai Market only focus attention on a fudged approach to heritage conservation.
Most local conservation projects lose all sense of antiquity and history and end up looking like replicas from a modern theme park. The former Explosives Magazine at Old Victoria Barracks is the latest illustration of this approach ( 'Heritage site access to be limited', November 4).
Also the winning design for revitalising the historic Central Market has more to do with development than conservation ('New market won't make a splash' November 25).
Our heritage is under threat and its conservation needs urgent and enlightened attention, but the encumbered Development Bureau is not the correct agency for the job.
I. M. Wright, Happy Valley
Police force in unique position
Li Yan-yee defends police publicity - or non-publicity - policies ('Defending police press query policy', November 27) on the grounds that the 'approach of informing and seeking approval from senior officers before responding to press queries is not only adopted by government bodies but by other organisations, because this is the sensible and reasonable thing to do'.
The problem with this argument is that the police force is not just another 'government body or other organisation'. It is a body of people who are legally empowered to go about the streets carrying deadly weapons on our behalf and in specified circumstances to coerce, arrest or shoot fellow citizens.
The exercise of powers of this kind must be public and transparent. The exercise of a public office which affects the lives and liberty of the citizen calls for nothing less. The alternative to public police is secret police. And we all know where that leads.
Tim Hamlett, Fo Tan
Life skills for young Samaritans
It was reassuring to read of sustained efforts to help troubled young people in our community ('Peer support helps troubled youth', November 27).
The Samaritans has been running a Young Samaritans Peer Support Programme since 2000, providing emotional support training to youths in the 16-19 age range. These young Samaritans complete a series of workshops and take their skills back to their respective schools, presenting their newly gained listening and support skills to fellow students.
Our experience tells us that peer support imparts impressive benefits in helping those suffering from depression, self-harming, which is a growing problem among teenagers, and other mental health issues.
Teenagers may find more connection with those of their own age than with established counsellors, although a variety of resources needs to be used to help those in distress.
We also distribute a booklet, 'Living life more easily', to help students recognise the signs and symptoms of depression and those feelings that may lead to suicide.
In this way and with the Young Samaritans programme, we believe that more young people can attain emotional well-being at an early age. Not only that, it will help them cope with the curved balls that life throws at them during their lives.
Equipped with such life skills, our young Samaritans also grow up to become more patient and thoughtful individuals, and to be more ready to acknowledge and respect the feelings of others.
Liz Chamberlain, director, The Samaritans
No leniency over vote cheats
We should all be concerned about allegations of vote rigging in the district council elections.
Hong Kong is a society where the rule of law is respected. Such practices as vote rigging are unacceptable.
The government must look at any loopholes in the voter registration system and plug them. If this is not done, Hong Kong's image as a city where corruption is not tolerated will be damaged.
The problem of voters not being required to give proof of residency would imply that the government did not keep its eye on the ball with regard to the district council elections.
The allegations of vote rigging came not from officials but from other parties including the press.
We need a society where dealings are clear and above board and the next chief executive must work towards achieving this culture of openness.
When it comes to action to be taken over vote rigging there must be zero tolerance.
Leo Fong, Tai Wai
Better voter registration checks
I refer to the report ('Vote-rig claims trigger action', November 24). Allegations of dishonest practices with some voter registrations must be taken seriously, because clearly, if proved, these are illegal acts.
It appears there are cases where the government did not have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent people from submitting false information. As a consequence, some of those candidates who lost in last month's district council elections feel they have been unfairly treated.
The government must ensure that the relevant officials take greater care when verifying voters' information. Addresses can be checked for authenticity by making phone calls, sending letters or looking up the census.
Citizens can also play their part. If there is a mistake regarding their address they should contact the Registration and Electoral Office and be co-operative if they receive an inquiry from the office. If the office has a list of addresses and voters it suspects are not genuine, officials should be sent to these addresses.
The necessary improvements to the voter registration system should be made before the next Legislative Council elections.
Xavier Chong, Tsuen Wan
Reduce car numbers to clean up air
Hong Kong is not as large as mainland cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen and yet it still has serious pollution problems which are getting worse.
I think the main reason is the increasing number of cars. The government has not done enough to control this problem.
With more cars our air pollution problems are getting worse, and there are black spots such as Mong Kok and Central.
According to the World Health Organisation, Central's 'annual mean roadside reading of fine particles [specks of pollutants]' are exceeded by only seven cities, including Dakar in Senegal, Zabrze in Poland and Accra in Ghana ('Greens put HK air 'shame' on the map', November 25).
The government must deal with this problem and it should start by reducing car numbers.
The way to do this would be to raise the first-registration tax for cars and do more to speed up the introduction of environmentally friendly vehicles such as electronic vehicles.
I agree with a Friends of the Earth officer who said that we live in a top-class financial hub but 'people in Central are breathing third-world-class air'.
We must take action before it is too late.
Janet Ching Hoi-man, Hung Hom