Lai See

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2011, 12:00am


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Power companies learn how little contracts mean to government

When is a contract not a contract? When it is signed with the Hong Kong government, if the experience of the power companies is anything to go by.

The request by the power companies to raise electricity tariffs is a golden opportunity for our unpopular government. It can portray itself as taking the side of the 'people' against the 'greedy' power companies. It's true the power companies did extremely well out of the previous scheme of control. It permitted an annual rate of return on depreciated net assets of 13.5 to 15 per cent - double the rates of markets such as Australia and Britain and making Hong Kong one of the most profitable power markets in the world.

The new scheme of control, which came into effect in 2009, permits a return of 9.99 per cent on assets using conventional resources and 11 per cent on assets using renewable energy assets, together with financial incentives for exceeding emission targets or fines for missing them.

We may not like the scheme. The government talked of opening up the market to competitive tender but opted to stick with the present arrangements. Any tariff increase over 5 per cent is supposed to be approved by the Executive Council. But this spat was always a problem waiting to happen. The power companies have invested in scrubbers to clean up their emissions. The government has agreed on a formula with the power companies. The fact that people don't like paying more for electricity is not by itself a valid reason for not raising tariffs. If the government can show that the power companies are fudging their figures, that's a different matter - but they haven't done that. Instead we have this gutless posturing because it doesn't have the nerve to say that there is an agreed formula for adjusting rates.

The posturing from Edward Yau Tang-wah, the secretary for the environment, is even more stomach churning. This is a man who has steadfastly ignored the evidence that Hong Kong's noxious roadside pollution is harming Hong Kong's public health. But as soon as he gets an opportunity to gain some cheap publicity, he emerges from his bunker. Bravo. What sort of message does this send to anyone contemplating signing a contract with the government?

Equal opportunity my foot

An advertisement for a policy officer at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur is causing some dismay in Malaysia. The successful candidate will be a 'key player in the political and public diplomacy section and the wider mission, providing policy and analysis to the high commissioner and senior stakeholders in London', the job description reads. Among the requirements: 'Fluent Bahasa advantageous.'

However, the position is not open to Malaysians. The nature of the work is such that, according to the advertisement, the jobholder must possess a British government security clearance and therefore 'only nationals of the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US are eligible to apply'.

However, a note at the bottom of the job description declares that the British High Commission is an 'equal opportunities employer and does not discriminate on grounds of ethnic origin, race, religious belief, age, disability, gender or sexual orientation'.

It reminds us of the comedy sketch where the job applicant speaks in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. Eventually the interviewer interrupts saying: 'I'm sorry, we were looking for someone taller.'

Wisdom of the ages on your wall

It being that time of the year, we have received calendars from various corporations. A number of them come with advice on what to do or not do on various days of the year. Some of this advice seems somewhat outdated. Looking at our calendar from Zurich Insurance International, January 1 is a good day for taking a shower and cleaning the house, while our calendar from Brightoil Petroleum says it's a good time for a manicure and pedicure and for training horses. Both of our calendars say that January 16 is not a good day for getting married, while January 24 appears more controversial, with one saying it is a good day for marriage and the other, that it's a bad day. So much for the wisdom of calendars.

Notice about Leung raises eyebrow

We were amused at the stock-exchange notice announcing Leung Chun-ying's resignation from the Sing Tao board, which said he had no disagreements with the board. That may be true, but it would seem that he did not see entirely eye-to-eye with chairman Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, with whom he had a very large public spat, if we are to believe what we read in the newspapers.