• Sun
  • Jul 27, 2014
  • Updated: 12:02am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 2:22am

Common sense in Hong Kong's Clochemerle moment

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

We now understand why the Buildings Department has taken so long to deal with the outstanding celebrity illegal structures problem, which, let's not forget, includes our chief executive.

This is because it has been absorbed by the pressing issue of increasing the number of public toilets available to women in shopping malls, cinemas, and elsewhere. While clearly a highly laudable public good, what is less good, is the ludicrous palaver involved in executing this measure.

It was first discussed in the Legislative Council in February but incredibly shelved after some lawmakers "warned" this could result in legal issues relating to discrimination against men. However, after duly considering this measure, the Department of Justice has ensured that common sense prevails and that the earlier warnings were misplaced.

Naturally it will take some time for the department to draw up the necessary amendments to increase the ratio of women's toilets to men's from 1:1 to 1:1.5. For those requiring further reading on the possible implications of this move we can recommend Gabriel Chevallier's novel Clochemerle written in 1934, which examines in some detail the ramifications of installing a new urinal in the village square.

Will the incinerator re-emerge?

Australia's Northern Territory government has shut down its quarantine incineration facility at East Arm Wharf in Darwin because of pollution concerns, ABC News reports. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) says there has been a continuing problem with the incinerator ever since it was set up six years ago.

Transport Minister Adam Giles says the government decided to shut the facility because it failed to meet new environmental standards. EPA chairman Bill Freeland says the incinerator was found to be emitting dioxins into the surrounding soil.

The incinerator was set up in 2006 to treat waste from commercial shipping and international flights. We hear the Hong Kong government has abandoned plans to build a monster HK$23 billion incinerator - or waste management facility as it prefers to call it - in the scenic environs of the island of Shek Kwu Chau off South Lantau.

However, the project's official status is that it has been shelved, so there is still the possibility it will re-emerge. It was, after all, carefully nurtured by the previous secretary of the environment, Edward Yau Tang-wah, during Donald Tsang's administration.

After his stellar career in this capacity he now rejoices in the title of Director of Office of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, where hopefully environmental policy is spared his attentions.

Bursting population bubbles

Interesting to see the government's appointment of 11 non-official members to the Steering Committee on Population Policy.

According to the government's announcement: "The committee will identify the main social, economic, and policy challenges which require further study regarding changes to Hong Kong's population profile in the next 30 years. It will recommend strategies and practical measures for pursuing the objectives of Hong Kong's population policy, and advise on the priority of these measures."

This is presumably a polite way of saying it wants to bring some sense to the ludicrous population assumptions that have been underpinning government infrastructure projects.

Readers will recall that the Census and Statistics Department recently lowered its projected population from 8.89 million to 8.47 million for 2041 - a 26 per cent decline - and justified it by using C.Y. Leung's decision to ban mainland women without local partners from giving birth at local hospitals from next year.

But the government population projections have been way out of line for years, rather like John Tsang's budget surplus projections. The latest forecast for this year is a population of 7.13 million and we are not expected to reach 8.3 million until 2036.

The Transport Department needs to pay attention to this since the "Third Comprehensive Transport Study" still appears to be using a forecast of 8.9 million to 10 million for 1997-2016. The closest we can get to this is 2041 when Hong Kong is forecast to have a population of 8.5 million.

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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