• Sat
  • Aug 30, 2014
  • Updated: 8:12am

Mainland shames HK in ways that go beyond smog data

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2012, 12:00am

At last, after years of criticism, the Hong Kong government is to begin monitoring the concentration of PM2.5 pollutants in our atmosphere.

If, like me, you are not good at acronyms, then PM stands for 'particulate matter', or particles. And 2.5 means less than 2.5 micrometres across.

That's small. In contrast, a human hair is typically 100 micrometres across, while the diameter of a red blood cell is more like 10 micrometres.

So in other words, PM2.5 means specks of stuff - usually the unburned carbon pumped out by diesel engines and coal-fired power stations - tiny enough to penetrate deep into the bronchioles of our lungs, where they do irreparable harm.

Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department has long resisted publishing real-time data on these nasties, presumably because the results would be acutely embarrassing.

Last week, however, the government said it would begin monitoring PM2.5 concentrations by the end of March.

You have to suspect this change of heart was prompted by the Beijing government's announcement a couple of weeks ago that it would begin publishing real-time PM2.5 data of its own later this month.

With Beijing, infamously one of the most polluted cities on earth, coming clean about its problems, Hong Kong was left with egg on its face. It was fast becoming even more embarrassing for the Hong Kong government to be seen as less open than Beijing than to admit the extent of its own PM2.5 pollution.

Clearly the fear of losing face can be a powerful motivation. So, in case the threat of further embarrassment might prompt action in other areas, here are six more ways in which Hong Kong lags woefully behind the mainland.

1) Unlike Hong Kong, the mainland boasts an anti-monopoly law, and the authorities are not afraid to use it to protect consumers.

Although sceptics had alleged the law was aimed mainly at shutting foreign companies out of mainland markets, last year the authorities surprised everyone when they slapped two leading state-owned enterprises, China Telecom and China Unicom, with heavy fines for illegally conspiring to fixing broadband prices.

Meanwhile, six years after the Hong Kong government pledged to introduce its own competition law, the bill remains stuck before the Legislative Council, where the city's powerful business interests are doing their best to water it down so they can continue to rip Hong Kong's consumers off with impunity.

2) On the mainland, expectant mothers are legally entitled to a generous 14 weeks of maternity leave if they are under 25, or 18 weeks if older; a period which can be extended to 24 weeks. What's more, they are entitled to full pay at the average monthly wages paid by their employer, which provides a much-needed windfall for lower-paid mothers.

In contrast, Hong Kong women are entitled to just 10 weeks of maternity leave on reduced pay, set at 80 per cent of their normal rate provided they have worked at the company for more than nine months. Otherwise, they get nothing.

3) In 2010, the mainland generated 18 per cent of its electricity from non-polluting renewable sources.

In Hong Kong, the proportion was zero.

4) The Hong Kong government likes to boast about the city's high standard of education. But according to last year's educational attainment statistics compiled by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Hong Kong pupils are dunces compared with their Shanghai counterparts.

Pupils in Shanghai get top marks for their mathematical ability, scoring 600 points on the OECD's standardised ranking. Hong Kong pupils score just 555.

In science, Shanghai gets 575 marks to Hong Kong's 549, and for reading proficiency Shanghai pupils score 556 marks, while their Hong Kong counterparts get a lowly 533.

So although the Hong Kong government has picked the education sector as a key driver of future economic growth, the city fails its exams compared with Shanghai.

5) The Hong Kong government also likes to brag about the excellence of the city's 'cultural and creative industries'. But of the top 10 most popular Chinese-language films according to the IMDb database, none was a Hong Kong production and only three counted as Hong Kong co-productions, with the city companies very much junior partners. Mainland-produced films dominate the ranking.

6) Finally, the mainland has built and commissioned thousands upon thousands of government buildings in the past few years, with no recorded cases of legionella infestation. The Hong Kong government couldn't even manage to build itself a disease-free headquarters.

We should hang our heads in shame.

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