Hong Kong will get its third runway by hook or by crook
The 30-day consultation period for the environmental impact assessment for the third airport runway is over and all that is needed now is for the Environmental Protection Department to apply its rubber stamp.
The assessment report will next be scrutinised by Anissa Wong Sean-yee in her capacity as director of environmental protection. She also wears another hat - permanent secretary of the Environment Bureau, where her role is to advance government policy.
There is clearly a conflict of interest here. It is hard to imagine that her career will be advanced by knocking back environmental impact assessments of favoured government projects. The last report to be rejected was in 2000 when the director of environmental protection, Robert Law, reviewed the Kowloon-Canton Railway's Lok Ma Chau spur line.
In those days, the director of environmental protection was a qualified environmental scientist and the role of permanent secretary of the Environmental Bureau was held by a career bureaucrat.
When Law retired, the government swiftly put a stop to independent thought being applied to environmental impact assessments and the permanent secretary and director roles were combined. This ploy of downgrading expertise within government departments has occurred elsewhere, notably with respect to the government's archives and records.
Given the current political climate, it is not hard to believe that it is no accident that the government's records are shambolic and unlikely to be of much use to anyone hoping to construct a historical account of the early days of one country, two systems. It is therefore hardly surprising that since the Hong Kong-Macau bridge assessment, public confidence and trust in the assessment process has declined.
It is interesting to see that the runway assessment report concludes the section on air quality with the observation: "In view of the above assessment findings, it can be concluded that operation of the project will not result in adverse residual air quality impacts."
This conclusion is strikingly different from a report produced a few years ago by the Airport Authority's own consultant, Ove Arup, which admitted that the runway would struggle to meet Hong Kong's latest air quality standards, which are a legal requirement.
The consultants' report says "emissions from aircraft can only meet the standard by reducing the capacity of the new runway by some 60 per cent".
Tung Chung suffers from some of the worst air pollution in Hong Kong, and the situation is hardly going to improve once trucks and buses start rumbling across the bridge to Macau.
The air quality standards for these projects are supposed to be legally binding. So the authors of these reports have to fudge their findings by trickery with "modelling".
Hong Kong will have its third runway by hook or by crook.
Annells court affair
Readers have been asking what is happening to the Deborah Annells case since it appears to have gone quiet. Annells is the founder and former chief executive of AzureTax, which specialised in arranging the tax affairs of expatriates. She is remanded in jail and faces 55 counts of theft and fraud involving more than HK$36 million. She has also been charged doing an act tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice. This relates to using a false document to obtain a variation of bail at a court hearing on April 11. Annells has applied for legal aid and her assets are being assessed to see if she is eligible. She is due to appear in court next month.
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