PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 December, 2011, 12:00am


Poor record of corporate governance

As managing director of a boutique financial industry advisory, I believe the situation regarding Olympus Corporation further highlights the urgent need for greater transparency among businesses in Asia.

The current crisis over hidden investment losses in the Japanese camera and medical company highlights a huge issue for businesses and shareholders to consider in the Asia-Pacific region. Are boards really moving quickly enough to get truly independent non-executive directors in place to give shareholders comfort?

Asian business has always been entered into on the basis of trust and relationships. As noble as this is, it can often lend itself to poor corporate governance, and having directors who are friendly to management or larger family shareholders of that company. This does not allow for objectivity, transparency and independence when it comes to shareholders being properly informed.

Asia is seen as one of the few hopes for growth in global markets, and longer-term investors demand minimum levels of due diligence and corporate governance. Having an adequate number of independent board directors with the capacity to ask hard questions without fear of being removed is a good place to start.

Governments and regulators will continue to be comparatively judged within the region. They must continue to mandate greater independence on company boards to effect a genuine move away from inter-relationships in the eyes of shareholders.

Some suggestions for a more robust corporate governance platform could include shorter tenures, a cap on the number of board roles a director can hold, and a minimum level of professional qualification and experience.

Finding outside directors who can legitimately be called independent while at the same time filling gaps in expertise, providing diversity or adding geographical reach, or even acting as a true wise man at board level, can be difficult. However, improved corporate governance is fundamental to Asia's future development.

Jamie Spence, managing director, Billarook

Language rule could cause unrest

I am concerned about guidelines announced by the Guangdong government limiting the use of Cantonese in the media ('Cantonese broadcasts restricted in Guangdong', December 18).

I was bitterly disappointed to learn of this decision, not only because it appears the central government is trying to destroy a valuable culture, but also because Guangdong party chief Wang Yang had earlier pledged the use of Cantonese would not be limited.

The argument, that government officials cannot understand Cantonese so are unable to monitor what the public is saying, is unacceptable. For provincial affairs, Beijing appoints local officials so there should not be a language problem.

There are many dialects in China and a wide variety of cultures. Chinese citizens must learn Putonghua so they can communicate efficiently. But that does not mean the government should take these measures against Cantonese given its widespread use in Guangdong.

Cantonese is historically important as it retains features of the Chinese spoken in ancient times. It is important when it comes to reading Tang dynasty poems.

Also, the Guangdong government's order will cause discontent among residents in the province who are Cantonese speakers, and this could lead to greater unrest and more social problems. There is an old Chinese saying, 'Harmony in diversity.' I believe that different cultures and different languages can work together.

Kelvin Leung Hoi-kin, Tsuen Wan

Hong Kong is definitely a world city

I refer to the report ('Hong Kong not yet a world city, think tank says', December 15). I am a German and have lived here for four years.

I understand some of the disadvantages mentioned in the article are relevant, such as rising prices and high rents for property.

However, I believe that the advantages of Hong Kong far outweigh the disadvantages.

For example, I consider it to be the safest city in the world. No matter where I am or what time it is, I cannot think of a single location in the SAR which is dangerous. Try taking a public train to the outskirts of London or Berlin late at night.

Also, I do not think any city is better administered than this one. Everything works like clockwork. The MTR network is unrivalled when it comes to efficient operation of its services.

If you want to get a visa, open an office, it does not matter, the regulations are straightforward. Decisions are made quickly and the officials you have to deal with are competent and friendly.

Also, the financial set-up in Hong Kong sets a fine example that could be followed by any city in the world. There is no value-added tax and we also have low income tax. Compare that with taxes and finances in Berlin or other large cities in Europe or the United States.

I love Hong Kong and do believe it is a world city.

Thomas Schwarz, Tung Chung

Fine-tune donating by Octopus

I refer to the report ('Is giving to charity by Octopus an idea that's got legs?' December 18).

When there is a flag day, it is now possible to make a HK$5 donation to a charity using your Octopus card.

I think this is very convenient, as often I do not have any spare coins with me.

Sometimes I am approached by a flag seller and, although I would like to make a donation I am unable to do so as I do not have any coins. It can be very embarrassing.

However, one disadvantage with the new scheme is that the donation on the machine is fixed at HK$5 and some people may want to donate more.

They are unable to use the same card twice and so double their donation. Also, there are some who may want to donate less than HK$5.

It would be more convenient if the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and Octopus Cards were able to offer people a choice - say HK$1, HK$2, HK$5, HK$10 and HK$20.

Monica Hung, Tsuen Wan

School vote was more democratic

I can still remember at school when we would choose class monitors.

Our teachers explained that we should opt for someone who would be capable and would represent our views.

I am reminded of this when looking at the small-circle election for the next chief executive.

It seems the criteria governing the choice of our school monitor do not apply here given the fact that we Hong Kong citizens, who the chief executive is supposed to represent, cannot cast our votes to choose that person.

It is ironic that what we learned in school does not apply to society.

Frankly, I do not think either candidate embodies the spirit of an open election.

One candidate has failed to prove to the public that he has good leadership skills and the ability to handle any crisis that Hong Kong faces. And we are still unfamiliar with the other candidate.

If there is a lack of interest among citizens, it is because we are not involved in the political process.

Shirley Lau Suet-lai, Ma On Shan

Eyesores should go underground

Hardly anyone would welcome polluting or unhygienic facilities in their backyard.

However, even the most visionary town planners would have never dreamt of developments in our vibrant city.

High rises, commercial buildings and tourist attractions are now located close to some of the town's worst-smelling black spots.

I refer to the refuse collection points. In many parts of Hong Kong, they are in discreet locations and do not cause a problem.

However, the collection point in Oil Street, North Point, is in close proximity to two hotels, a grade-A commercial tower and Fortress Hill MTR station.

There is another one at Dundas Street, beside the entrance of the Kwong Wah Hospital outpatient clinic.

And then there is the refuse collection facility at the back of the Southorn Playground in Wan Chai, near a part of Luard Road and Johnston Road which has undergone a major facelift.

It is near restaurants which are popular with tourists.

How can we convince the rest of the world our hygiene standards have improved since the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak?

The government is proposing using underground caverns to house some services.

I hope that these refuse collection points will be at the top of the list.

Peter Lam, Quarry Bay