• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 9:38am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 2:27am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 2:27am

Sceptic lawyer questions actual productivity of Hong Kong police


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.

Our discussions about the police in the past few days continue to attract attention. We initially pointed out that Hong Kong was the fifth-most heavily policed territory in the world by the number of police per 100,000 head of population. Some responded that we should look at the absolute number but consider the productivity. In that respect, "we get excellent value for money for our police force", one retired police officer wrote.

But not all concur. A lawyer has written to us about the use of police resources. He asks why - if we are short of police officers as some claim - the police carry out about 1.7 million stop and searches each year, according to statistics on its website, of which 99.9 per cent find nothing suspicious. Their counterparts in New York carry out far fewer stop and searches but find evidence of illegality in about 5 per cent of cases, though they are still criticised for being over-zealous. Why, he continues, doesn't the Hong Kong police stop the 1.7 million illegally parked drivers a year who are clearly in breach of the law.

In another example of how the Hong Kong police apparently wastes time and resources, he wonders why it is when he attends a police station with a suspect to take a statement and it is made clear at the outset that the suspect will not answer any questions, that the police insist on continuing with the interview, although the answer to each question is "I will not answer". "I have numerous examples of people being questioned for hours on end without answering a single question. All these statements then have to be transcribed, translated and copied. The waste is phenomenal," he says.


Waiting for Wu opinion

It's been almost six months and there is still no word on when the disciplinary committee of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) will report its findings on Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk. People are getting restive at the length of time it is taking to get this report out. The cynic in us has wondered whether there has been some pressure for the publication of the report to be delayed until Wu steps down from the authority next month.

However, we have been assured that this is not the case. The problem is that this is in many respects a complex case with a mass of papers, and the chairman of the committee, Kumar Ramanathan, is a highly regarded silk and is therefore a busy man. Because he is not being paid for this work, it has to be done in his free time.

The saga, for that is what it now is, is by far the HKICPA's longest-running disciplinary case and dates back to December 2009. It raises a real issue, in our opinion, as to whether this is the right way for the accountancy profession to regulate itself. What this case suggests is that people need to be paid to look into these matters so they can be expedited efficiently.

In addition to Wu, the other defendants are Ernst & Young, of which Wu was chairman until December 2005, and Catherine Yen Ka-shun, another senior figure at the accounting firm. The complaint relates to the collapse of the investment in New China Hong Kong in 1999. Wu was the financial adviser to the company and Ernst & Young was the auditor.


Buffett's congress solution

Warren Buffett has been prolific in recent days in excoriating the US congress over its recent performance in handling the government debt-ceiling deadlock. The investment guru, in an interview with CNBC, offers one of the more interesting solutions for curbing the debt ceiling.

"I could end the deficit in five minutes," he told CNBC. "You just pass a law that says that any time there is a deficit of more than 3 per cent of GDP, all sitting members of congress are ineligible for re-election."


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


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

@ "Why, he ( the lawyer) continues, doesn't the Hong Kong police stop the 1.7 million illegally parked drivers a year who are clearly in breach of the law?"
This is all because of a policy called ‘Selective Traffic Enforcement Policy’ (“STEP” ) introduced in 1993. This was supposedly to enhance road safety and keep traffic moving smoothly.
It has been an abject failure because with the passage of time the level of enforcement against infringing drivers has softened progressively to the point where rules are held in contempt by the majority of drivers.
It is no longer safe enough for pedestrians to walk along pavements or across streets because their way is constantly blocked by infringing vehicles, their drivers arrogantly ignoring the mass inconveniences caused to pedestrians and also by their vehicles blocking streets and junctions.
It is a disgrace that the successive Commissioners of Police have allowed the situation to deteriorate to such a state.
However it was a political decision to introduce STEP and the former leaders Donald Tsang and Henry Tang must have been very much involved in introducing and then maintaining this policy in spite of its obvious failure. It was another sop to the rich who wish to have the down-town streets almost exclusively for their own selfish interests. The great "unwashed" are to be kept on narrow pavements and herded into underground tunnels and fed to the crowded MTR and away from the seven-seater space wagons.
John Adams
Applying the wisdom of Warren Buffet to the productivity of our police force, perhaps we should pass a law by which all the senior police officers in any given district lose a month's pay if ever a member of the public sees more than one illegally parked car per 100 meters of road space.
But actually the best way to stop illegal parking and reduce the workload on our (apparently ) under-staffed / over-worked police force... and presumably traffic wardens ... would be to subcontract parking enforcement to the private sector give them the right to clamp and tow. This seems to work very well in many cities in the west. After all , was it not the police themselves who recently ran a public awareness campaign on TV which showed towing as a legal solution?
Talking about law enforcement, did/do/will the police take any action against the 'occupation' of a large swathe of traffic thoroughfare along Wyndham Street in broad daylight by trucks/carts of SF-Express? Anyone working in Central must have experienced this lawlessness with zero intervention from the police.
Sounds all nice until you need a lawyer to fight for your rights when the coppers have you alone in the cooler and are using every available means, legal and illegal, to intimidate you and get you to sign a simple "confession".
As someone who has been "randomly" stopped twice by HK police - both times while walking to TST MTR after playing squash in HK park, I can attest to the uselessness of the process. First time I asked why I am being stopped and the answer was I am carrying a large bag...ignoring the tennis racket or trainers sticking out of it. They then proceeded to search thru my bag, looking for who knows what, while i stood there looking embarrassed and watching mainlanders rolling giant suitcases up and down sidewalk. Second time they wouldnt even answer my questions. Only later i was told by some friends -- only half-joking -- that some police in TST believe that walking while not chinese is enough to warrant a stop. I can't believe this is the best idea they have.
SF Express uses the pavements and streets of HK as a free sorting office. They must have friends in high places to be able to get away with such blatant disregard for the laws.
People who live in greenhouses should not throw stones! A suggestion by a lawyer that the local police waste time and money might cause people to look at the legal profession and examine them in the same light!
Illegal parking whilst frustrating is hardly society threatening and could easily be combated by privatisation like elsewhere in the word.
If you really want to turn over a stone, look how the HK Police conduct criminal enquiries. It's under resourced in funding and professional experience, hog tied in outdated procedure and painfully slow. That's not the Police's fault but it's government bosses.
Subcontracting ? Are you kidding ? The civil servants want it most ! They turn themselves into the masters of the masters of the civil servants.


SCMP.com Account