Champagne moment for Christine Loh and Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2012, 5:58am

Christine Loh was espied sipping champagne in the Hong Kong Club recently and this has set some tongues wagging that she has accepted C.Y. Leung's invitation to join his government as undersecretary for environment. However, she assures us that she has long been known to sip the occasional glass of champagne in the club, and to draw any conclusions about her joining the government would be premature.

But others say she has agreed to accept the position and that it could be announced before the end of the month. If this does indeed occur, it would be the best news for C.Y. since getting elected. His government has taken on a somewhat beleaguered look in recent weeks. The slow-motion submergence of Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po's position over his subleased flats has not helped.

Loh would add considerable lustre to C.Y.'s government. It would send a signal that he is able to attract high-calibre people while at the same time sending out a very clear statement that the government is serious about cleaning up the environment. Given Loh's work on the environment at the Civic Exchange - the think tank she founded - it is inconceivable that she would accept this position without assurances that she is actually going to be able to make significant changes.

There is no way that Loh, unlike her predecessor Edward Yau Tang-wah, would sit on her hands for five years. It is said that Yau had no support since Donald Tsang Yam-kuen didn't think the environment was a problem. But Yau appeared out of his depth, stuck his head in the sand and seemed to make little effort to deal, for example, with the overwhelming evidence that the dirty air was impacting public health, or with the problem of waste management. We can assume that one of the first things Loh will look at is how to curb roadside pollution, waste disposal and a host of other issues that have not been tackled.

Her appointment, once confirmed, will be a real shot in the arm for the government and for environmentalists, who have felt they have been banging their heads against a brick wall for the past decade, and hopefully for the public, who can look forward to an improvement in the air they breathe. Air quality has for years been one of the priority issues with the local chambers of commerce in their annual input to the chief executive's policy address.

Signs that Hong Kong is to get serious about tackling air quality will improve its international image, which has been tarnished for some years by news stories of people with young families leaving the city because of air-related health concerns. Should Loh's appointment be confirmed, we might even break out the champagne ourselves.

Storm with a tea cup

There was more drama at China Gas shareholders' meetings yesterday. Much of the attention centred on a minority shareholder, Paul Wong, who gave out a name card that said he was editor of the personal finance page of the Hong Kong Daily News, though he subsequently denied he worked for the paper. He asked the management numerous questions and made quite a scene when he felt his questions weren't being answered - at one point hurling cups and saucers around.

Wong later complained about the behaviour of the company's public relations staff, who were standing close to him. So close that he felt they were threatening him. He called the police and after 10 minutes two officers turned up but there were no arrests. Asked by journalists why he was being so aggressive, he said he was concerned about corporate governance issues at the company.

A previous China Gas shareholders' meeting in April was even livelier, with shareholders voting out the chairman and the vice-chairman, along with managing director Liu Minghui, who was arrested and detained by Shenzhen police in December for alleged embezzlement, although no charges have been laid.

Olympic spenders

While China's Olympic athletes were winning medals in London, Chinese tourists were out in force spending. According to British tourism officials, Chinese tourists spent an average of HK$2,469 per purchase, which is 10 per cent more than shoppers from the United Arab Emirates. Chinese ambassador to London Liu Xiaoming said that about 250,000 Chinese had travelled to London for the Games. One of the attractions of London is that luxury items are cheaper than in China. A Burberry wallet is about 3,000 yuan (HK$3,670) to 4,000 yuan cheaper in London than in Beijing and Shanghai.