Make the rich pay for their fun

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 December, 2011, 12:00am


No one likes to subsidise the expensive private clubs that are the exclusive haunts of powerful tycoons and rich tai-tais. Yet however you spin it, this is what the government has been doing by leasing land to these clubs free of charge or for a token annual sum.

The policy dates back to the colonial era, but Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing is about to allow them to renew their 15-year leases for the same lengthy period.

That is quite a turnaround for Tsang, who used to be a leftist. He is wrong to try to make the clubs offer greater public access in exchange for their leases. He should make them pay more.

Part of the revulsion at what amounts to land grants to these clubs stems from the widening wealth gap and the deep social discontent it has caused in our society. On top of that, the city lacks adequate sports and recreational facilities, and wide open spaces - precisely the kind of amenities those private clubs enjoy.

A few extra hours of public access at the clubs will not solve the problem; it will be no more than a public relations gesture anyway.

Hong Kong is an international financial centre, and every rich city has its exclusive clubs. By all means let these clubs maintain their exclusivity, but make them pay for the privilege - through additional land rent, a new tax or contributions to a public fund. The money raised could then be used to build new public facilities for sports and recreation. There are bound to be complaints from club members about having to pay so much more, but, hey, the ability to splash out on ridiculously high membership fees could become a new status symbol.

The government has been stingy in financing schools like those under the English Schools Foundation and has no trouble with parents having to pay more and more every year. Surely it should have no problem making fat cats pay extra for their exclusive club privileges.