Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 3:12am

Disappearing paper trail more evidence of need for archive law

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.
 

How interesting to read in yesterday's South China Morning Post the reason why the Health Department was unable to monitor and enforce the land-grant conditions of some non-profit making hospitals. These hospitals were supposed to set aside 20 per cent of their beds for the poor and needy but have not been doing so, as was revealed by the Director of Audit last month. The issue featured again in a question in the Legislative Council on Monday. The government's inability to monitor the situation was because many of the documents could no longer be found. So once again the government's archive system has been found wanting.

Ironically the Director of Audit has also castigated the government for the state of its archives and record keeping. Not being able to find the relevant documents is becoming a policy tool for evading accountability. Possibly these documents were among the 1,181.7 metres - almost three times the height of the Two IFC building - of documents approved for destruction between April and September last year without being properly screened. The Archives Action Group was set up some years ago to redress the woeful state of Hong Kong's archives and to try to persuade the government to introduce an archives law establishing legally binding procedures to be followed.

 

Thinking different

We were interested to hear that Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing said recently that the Environmental Protection Department would study alternatives to traditional moving grate incineration for its Shek Kwu Chau project. Let's hope this news filters down to EPD apparatchiks who until last week were still vigorously promoting the traditional moving grate incinerator, which they had lined up for the project.

Other forms of treating municipal waste such as plasma arc technology, which is rapidly gaining traction around the world, were dismissed by EPD assistant director Elvis Au Wai-kwong, who said the technology was untested and could only handle relatively small quantities of waste. Aecom, the government's advisers in these matters, has advised going for traditional incineration. But, Aecom's US arm seems to take a different view. Commenting on Milwaukee's plans for a 1,200-tonne per day plant using plasma arc technology, Aecom's Mike Zebell said: "We believe that this technology is not only environmentally friendly, but ready for large-scale commercialisation." And Aecom's counterpart in Britain does not seem opposed to the technology. Aecom will design, build and operate a £75 million (HK$933 million) gasification plant in Teesside, Britain. Given Aecom's enthusiasm for adopting this technology, why the apparent reluctance to do so in Hong Kong?

 

Man of the year

Qantas must rue the day it let John Borghetti leave the company. He was executive general manger for six years and during this time Qantas achieved its highest reported profit of more than A$1.4 billion (HK$11.3 billion). However, in 2008, he lost out on Qantas Airways' top job to his then colleague Alan Joyce and left the company soon afterwards.

But he has returned to haunt Qantas as chief executive of Virgin Australia. As the magazine Orient Aviation describes it, "he turned a no-frills-cum-hybrid airline, formerly named Virgin Blue, into a high-quality, full-service airline with global reach".

Virgin Australia reported a net profit of A$22.8 million in the year to June 30, compared with a loss of A$67.8 million for the previous year. Meanwhile, Qantas reported a full-year loss of A$244 million, which was exacerbated by Virgin biting into its business-class market. As a result of his winning ways, Orient Aviation declared him Person of the Year 2012, and presented him with his award at a dinner in Hong Kong on Monday.

Rob Fyffe, chief executive of Air New Zealand, received a lifetime achievement award.

 

SITA Waste Services

In yesterday's story headed "By no means dead" we incorrectly referred to Swire Sita Waste Services as Hong Kong's foremost waste services company. However, Swire Pacific sold its shares in the company in 2009 to Suez Environnement, which is now the sole shareholder in SITA Waste Services.

 

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

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