Lai See

Hong Kong is struggling with a 48-year-old problem

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 12:47am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 12:47am

A reader has sent us a letter on the subject of air pollution which appeared in the South China Morning Post some years ago. "Sir: The increasing degree of smoke pollution in Hong Kong particularly on sunny windless days, is obvious to every citizen who can rub his smarting eyes, wash the dirt from his face, cough dangerously, or fail to see the harbour from the Peak. On good days, the sparkling and beautiful harbour we knew some years ago has given way to a dirty brown pall underneath blue skies. The damage to health, to tourism, to agriculture has not I suspect been measured, but, like a fish in a poisoned pond, we are all being affected, and that our lives and those of our children may very well be shortened as a result. And the curve of pollution is sure to rise in the years to come."

This letter was published in 1966. He also sent us another piece from the same year which was an account of a Rotary Club speech by the then managing director of Dodwell Motors, Paul Braga. He started by observing that "Hong Kong's 90,000 cars, buses and lorries probably fill the Colony's air daily with more than 350 tons of deadly exhaust gas." He went on to urge vehicle owners, "from bus companies to motor cyclists - to ensure against contributing to the air pollution problem. However, the responsibility also lies with public utilities, factory owners, steamship lines etc."

It seems astonishing that air pollution had already been perceived to be a problem 48 years ago and so little in the intervening period has been done about it. True, the factories moved out to mainland China in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But it shows an appalling lack of foresight on the part of successive governments to do much about it. Dealing with environmental issues which increased the cost of doing business has always been considered an impediment to economic growth by our leaders. Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was fond of lecturing us on this score. Now our filthy air is becoming an impediment to economic growth in that some people are reluctant to live in Hong Kong and either won't come or are moving away.

In addition, according to the Hedley Environmental Index, our air pollution has caused an average of 3,200 premature deaths a year over the past five years, and costs Hong Kong hundreds of millions of dollars a year in economic losses. We have yet to see the full extent of the damage that is being caused to children's respiratory systems. Even simple studies show a correlation between relatively high exposure to roadside pollution and weaker respiratory and lung functioning in children.

It is true this administration has been a considerable advance on its predecessor in this respect but we still seem to be moving far too slowly. If the government announced at the beginning of the year that there would be about 3,200 premature deaths from bird flu, there would be a demand for swift action which would no doubt be forthcoming. Death or ill health due to roadside pollution doesn't evoke the same urgency. Not for nothing is it referred to as a "silent killer".


Surviving in a mainland bank

We see that although mainland Chinese banks have been poaching staff in increasing numbers from US and European banks, in an effort to make themselves more technically and globally savvy, many of these new hirings are far from happy. BOC International for example took on dozens of staff from HSBC's Asia Securities unit in March, according to the website eFinancialCareers.

But headhunters in Hong Kong and the mainland are now handling inquiries from people at mainland banks who have been there less than six months and now want to get out. Stanley Soh, regional director of Asian financial services at search firm Global Sage in Hong Kong told the website that non-Putonghua speakers and/or bankers who only possessed "global-platform experience" often struggle to adapt to the workplace culture of Chinese banks.

Advice on how survive at a mainland bank includes: get a mentor - a senior Chinese executive to watch your back; give face to the boss; toe the corporate line; eat with your colleagues in the corporate canteen; be quiet and diligent at meetings; don't rush to reform - don't ram your "global skills" down your colleagues' throats immediately; and expect slow decision making. Is that so hard? Apparently, yes.


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