Hong Kong air pollution

Good times

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 3:07pm


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The holiday season should put us in a better mood. To end the year, this column will see the positive side of things. Employers, take note.

Hong Kong is a place of amazing natural beauty. This is increasingly being appreciated by both the people and the government. Its diverse flora and fauna are now seen as an asset, although the systems to protect them can be much improved. Our country and marine parks can be expanded and managed in ways that make them truly world-class. Their proximity to urban areas means every resident can access them quickly - a boost to our quality of life.

Our power utilities provide reliable electricity supply, though the regulatory schemes need to be updated to promote energy efficiency and conservation, and the fuel mix must move further away from coal to reduce carbon emissions.

Residents have amazing transport choices. Most commuters have access to buses and minibuses, trains and taxis. Public transport is plentiful, reliable and affordable compared to that in other rich cities. But, we can do better by putting in place policies to renew bus, minibus and taxi fleets earlier so they are less polluting; by making streets pedestrian-friendly so people can choose to walk for longer distances; and by encouraging cycling as a mode of transport.

Hong Kong has many good schools and our children have 11 years of free education. The challenge is to improve the learning experience for all students - thereby reducing parental stress over school placement - and provide for the needs of minority groups, as that is an important hallmark of an advanced society.

We can be proud of our women, who make up 47per cent of the workforce. At present, they hold only 29per cent of the leadership positions, according to government data, so we can expect women to continue to advance in the coming decade.

Hong Kong people enjoy exceptional longevity, but we would have fewer stresses and illnesses along the way if we made a much more determined push to improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and enable people to have more leisure time. The five-day working week is on its way.

While the people cannot yet exercise the full right to elect their political leaders, elections here attempt to mimic the real thing, and Beijing promises Hong Kong that it can directly elect its leader in 2017.

The 2012 chief executive election is a warm-up act and candidates can't avoid the hard subjects. It is embarrassing that 1.2 million people out of 7 million live below the poverty line. Moreover, the median household income is HK$17,500 per month, the same as it was in 1999, while the economy has grown by about half and labour productivity grew 4 per cent per year.

Clearly, the wealth hasn't been shared. No wonder people complain about having to pay more for electricity and transport, which the government regulates. Election campaigns don't have to be about pressuring utilities and transport operators not to increase fares - there are limits anyway - or about providing handouts.

Let the candidates speak the unspeakable - let pay levels rise. It will make for a happy year.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think tank Civic Exchange.