Petty claim puts Hong Kong to shame

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 3:17am

Hong Kong is going down the drain. You know why? It's this complete lack of common sense among some people and official bodies and the latter's need to maintain a pseudo-image of probity.

Taxi driver Tam Hoi-chi, 57, was hauled into court yesterday - for overcharging a passenger 50 cents over a ride from North Point to Diamond Hill. He was lucky he was let off. Why did the woman bother to press the case afterwards when she didn't ask for the 50 cents back that day?

First she went to the Consumer Council and found - no doubt to her great surprise - taxi drivers can only charge the amount registered on the electronic meter. Was it the first time she had ever taken a taxi ride in Hong Kong? Unlikely if she knew how to check her consumer rights with the council. I rather think the council could have pointed out that most taxi drivers keep the small charge unless asked to give it back. In any case, armed with this information, she went to the Transport Complaints Unit under the Transport and Housing Bureau. I was starting to feel exhausted by her determined efforts over 50 cents.

The unit, instead of telling her to go away, decided she had a case and referred it to the police. Incredibly, police said yes, took up the 50 cents case and summoned Tam to court. If convicted, he could have been fined and jailed for six months.

The only people who showed common sense in this sorry tale of wasting public resources are the lawyers from the Department of Justice. Stressing they had not been consulted prior to the charge being laid, prosecutors yesterday offered no evidence and dropped the case. A department statement said: "Given the trivial nature of the offence, it was considered not appropriate to proceed with it."

Our bureaucrats are really suckers for details and cents. Last year, the Registration and Electoral Office went after respected environmentalist Markus Shaw for committing an error of 80.9 cents in his accounts for his campaign for a seat on the Election Committee. A respected political science professor had the same problem, for making an error of 2 cents in his filing!

This "nickel-and-diming" has to stop. Exercise some judgment and discretion please - in the public interest.