• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 10:00am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 5:13am

Urgent action needed to combat Hong Kong's killer air


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.

The ghastly air pollution which has descended over Hong Kong this week is a reminder of what remains a pressing problem for the city.

Every year we enjoy a period when the prevailing wind switches from the northeast to the southwest, and if it is strong enough keeps the foul toxic air at bay. This year we have mercifully enjoyed a more extended period of clear skies. It started in late May rather than the normal early to mid-June and this has been accompanied by winds that have been sufficiently strong to keep the atmospheric pollution at bay. We have now reached the time of year when that will change. The clearer skies we have enjoyed have masked, at least to the naked eye, our continuing problem of unacceptably high levels of roadside pollution.

The government to its credit, after years of neglect by previous administrations, intends to introduce proposals to eliminate vehicles with old diesel engines and measure and control emissions from other vehicles. But these proposals have yet to be introduced into the Legislative Council.

Meanwhile, large numbers of people are dying unnecessarily as a result of the toxic conditions in which we live. According to the Hedley Environmental Index, there have been 1,875 avoidable deaths so far this year because of air pollution. The index shows that over the past five years there have been an average of 3,200 avoidable deaths a year as a result of Hong Kong's filthy air. As we have remarked before, if we were told that bird flu would cause 3,200 deaths over the next 12 months there would be panic and the government would move a lot faster to implement solutions. This is an urgent problem.


SFC rejects head accusation

The Securities and Futures Commission often gives the impression of being a rather dull and colourless organisation. This is perhaps because it plays a "dead bat" on most issues, to use a cricketing term. But we are pleased to see evidence of wilder spirits at work within the organisation. It recently received a missive from Lindell Lucy drawing the SFC's attention to the dangers of investment-linked assurance scheme (ILAS) products. These have been a lucrative source of income for the insurance industry but have had unhappy consequences for a number of people who have bought them. Lucy's girlfriend had made the mistake of taking out such a policy.

Lucy, and others, believe the current arrangements lead to mis-selling and ILAS products should come under the tighter ambit of the SFC. The SFC however maintains a somewhat legalistic stance in arguing that given the way the ordinance is worded they are insurance products. This does not go down well with Lucy, who in his e-mail says: "With all due respect, the SFC needs to pull its head out of its a**. Does putting an insurance wrapper around securities magically transform them into something other than securities?" Stephen Tisdall, senior director for intermediaries licensing and conduct at the SFC, replies: "I am relieved to be able to advise you that the SFC's head is not located in the particular part of its anatomy to which you referred." But he then goes on to reiterate the SFC's position, suggesting perhaps that Lucy's initial observation on this is not so wide of the mark.


Legal affairs

We see that Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos wants to have his cake and eat it with respect to the Securities and Futures Commission. Zervos steps down on September 8 but he is not going quietly. His recent comments about overworked judges and "tensions" with the SFC over prosecution matters have raised some eyebrows. In his annual report he says that the SFC's powers, which enable it to prosecute certain kinds of cases in magistrates' court, should be taken away and transferred to an independent prosecutor. Other than referring to tensions, he doesn't indicate what the problem is. What cases have been prosecuted and shouldn't have been, or have there been cases which the SFC should have prosecuted and didn't? Zervos doesn't say.

Meanwhile, there is some irony that although the SFC prosecuted Simon Chui Wing-nin, a former assistant director of finance at Citic Pacific, for insider dealing, the case is referred to in Zervos' report as "HKSAR v Chui Wing Nin Simon", suggesting it was a Department of Justice case.


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This article is now closed to comments

Dai Muff
A couple I know had a baby less than two weeks ago. Three days ago that child was put in intensive care with bronchitis, not coincidentally when the recent batch of air pollution from the north was reaching its worst. He is still in the ICU. I am sick of our government telling us it is alright to expose our lungs to this toxic mess.
It is time for Hk rethink itself as a so called asia world city with air pollution, 23% living in property and many are 65 yrs old, expensive on everything except still exploiting cheap labor of min pay $30 per hr from the poor 23% is like hiring a slave....n the shameful coffin home too...the bad list is very long...government officials pls stop boasting how good is Hk.....
the current ENB was handed a bucket of airborne shxt by Edward Yau and Bowtie & are trying to pick up the shambles they inherited
New laws on waste were promised in nice reports, producer responsibility laws by 2006, waste charging laws by 2007 but, no action talk only. Thankyou Edward Yau - hope you enjoyed your 59 overseas trips in 60 months' employment.
Pollution kills. Check the Hedley index. Our major polluter is shipping. Yau did nothing about this.
This is the worst form of Misconduct in Public Office when they had a magic wand to do as they wished & backroom gophers who would change to the right tack at a whim.
They could have banned the import of bunker fuel with high sulphur content, they could have moved PRD to form a shipping Emissions Control Zone in our waters.
They did SFA,
Yau was awarded for his dereliction of office with a Gong & a mayoral office manager job at ten times the normal business rate.
Interesting watching Yau and the CE in New York recently - I wonder if they asked Mayor Bloomberg why his current waste disposal tender specifically excludes Mass Burn incineration which Yau promoted here, when he was not jet-setting first class overseas.
Dai Muff
A truly clueless post.
Asia's world city is kind of accurate actually. Hong Kong is rather representative of Asia in its egregious wealth inequality, exploitation of the cheap labor and the working class, squalid living conditions, etc. That pretty much sounds like a lot of Asia to me.
John Adams
I agree completely with you, Sir.
Apart from sir ( "I'll get the job done" = "I will do nothing to rock the boat" ) bowtie, edward yau is the single one person from the past administration who has the most to answer for in the afterlife, with 3,200 avoidable deaths per year hanging on his head.
As someone technically qualified in the environmental field (and especially air pollution) I can vouch for yau's total ineptitude and lack of action, not to mention irresponsibility in public office . Unless ,as I begin to suspect, it was donald who actually told yau to do nothing during his time ( "I will NOT get the job done" ) .
BTW: Full marks to Mr Winn for consistently pushing this vital matter in his column. He is the only SCMP columnist who consistently brings up this matter on every possible occasion even at the risk of boring his readers. (The same goes for what Mr Winn writes today about ILAS)
I suppose it was hard for Bowtie to clamp down on the bus pollution when his brother was and still is running NWFB / Citybus (paid at $.9.5m per year) & Yau's last act in office was renewing the bus franchises & an over generous Scheme of Control agreement
At least Rafael H stepped down from the board of KMB before running Bowtie's campaign, but it seems he has missed his connection
Dai Muff
Yeah, but it's the world part he's worried about. Unless you make it "third world".
There is no doubt about Hong Kong's pollution and it's dangers. I don't think the Chinese appreciate, however, some Westerner making a big stink about it, especially with a name like Lindell Lucy, who possibly plays cricket. The old redneck saying applies here I think. If you don't like it, leave.
The earth has been warming since the last glacier started to retreat to the poles some 10 thousand years ago, paving the way for the emergence of the first civilization some 3 or 4 thousand years later. Today, when environmentalists and their followers want to make me believe that global warming is due to irresponsible human activity, I simply treat it as a joke.
Until just months ago, HK topped the world in terms of people's life expectancy. Japan has recently managed to beat us, sending HK to the second place in life expectancy. But I doubt whether HK is only second if the comparison is made between Tokyo and HK. Yet, there are people who are all the time nervous enough to say the air in HK is killing us. I also treat this as a joke.




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