Lai See

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 December, 2011, 12:00am


History comes and goes, but some things will never change

Browsing through the recently published Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, it is apparent that some problems don't seem to go away. The entry for Joseph Jardine records that in 1856 he opposed Governor Sir John Bowring's plans for harbour reclamation, since it would have deprived merchants of their harbourfront premises, and later objected to plans to increase the size and pay of the civil service, both areas that have been contentious in recent years. The dictionary, published by the Hong Kong University Press and edited by May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn, includes 500 entries concerning the various characters who have made their mark on Hong Kong since the mid-19th century. So we read of the various Keswicks and Jardines who passed through Hong Kong, of shipping magnate Y.K. Pao and stockbroker Fung King Hey and Henry Fok ying-tung. There is an account Ho Chi Minh's brief incarceration here and many entries providing snapshots of life in Hong Kong. We learn, for example, of the colourful lifestyle of David Jardine, whose expenses in 1844 included items such as the Canton Regatta, a billiards club and 'Singsong Amelia'. He survived a shipwreck and in 1855 confided to his brother Joseph Jardine his wish to either get married or to stay in China with a mistress. He achieved neither, dying the following year aged 38.

Putting your handout to good use

Citi is attempting to redirect the HK$6,000 we were given after John Tsang's budget went down badly and, horror of horrors, people were poised to march in the street. This threat was quickly averted with the promise of the handout. Quite a number of people, disgusted by this abdication of government policy, have been doing the government's work in seeking worthy causes where they can donate this money. Citi, together with the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, set up a '$6,000 Give-Back' programme whereby people can direct multiples of their handout to any of 12 different initiatives that directly benefit children, youth and the elderly who are homeless, ailing, handicapped or of low-income status.

Bonuses did not lead to crisis

Britain's University of Bath has an early Christmas present for investment banks that counters the argument the global financial crisis was triggered by poor decision making by the banks driven by the prospect of high bonuses. In a press release the university says its study of executive pay found that 'although pay in the financial services sector is high compared to other industries there is no evidence to support the argument that inappropriate incentive structures led banking executives to take excessive risks for short-term profits'. Says Professor Ian Tonks: 'It's difficult to see how incentive structures in banks could be blamed for the crisis since there is little hard evidence that executive compensation of bankers depended on short-term performance: they were paid high salaries irrespective of bank profits.' Tonks, possibly hoping to deflect unwanted attention from the Occupy the London Stock Exchange movement, adds: 'We are not trying to defend bankers' pay; our argument is simply that any poor decisions made that led to the financial crisis were not made because of their incentive payment structures.'

British win the bond war

Tensions between France and Britain are still simmering in the aftermath of last week's EU summit at which British Prime Minister David Cameron vetoed French and German efforts to change the EU constitution. French policymakers have been angered in recent weeks by talk of a possible downgrade of the country's sovereign bonds. French Finance Minister Francois Baroin said in an interview with a French regional newspaper that such a move was totally unwarranted. He said if any country should be downgraded it was Britain, 'which has more deficits, as much debt, more inflation, less growth than us and whose credit is collapsing'. This elicited the lofty response from a member of the parliamentary Treasury committee to The Daily Telegraph that, it was, 'Another example of Gallic self-delusion on an epic scale. They are tied to a currency that could become a basket case at any moment.' The bond markets appear to agree: yields on British government bonds are at 2.2 per cent while French bonds are at 3.2 per cent. Bloomberg quotes Peter Boockvar, a Miller Tabak strategist, as saying that the rates on swap contracts that protect against defaults show French bonds - which are for the moment triple A- rated - are more expensive to insure than government debt from Indonesia and the Philippines, both of which have non-investment-grade ratings.