• Wed
  • Oct 22, 2014
  • Updated: 11:35pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 3:17am

Petty claim puts Hong Kong to shame

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.


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This article is now closed to comments

Being a Chinese I know Chinese are the most practical people. Judgment call abound even situation is in black and white. Chinese get very comfortable to do things approximately and that reflects on our weakness in science and rule of law. For the latter, Hong Kong people mostly think we are above mainland Chinese when come to obeying law or following a logic. What Wu Shih once described Mr. Approximate of Chinese still rings true as can be seen in the strong defense for the taxi driver against the rider. So too, don’t expect you will get your change even the meter said so in mainland China too. Chinese has a cloudy and foggy way of living going about life most practically. Yes, the taxi driver is a victim of the culture when suddenly someone wanted to be impractical for a change.
If you can afford to travel by taxi then you can afford to pay a tip. It used to be a matter of courtesy to tip a taxi driver. Not being a car owner I use taxis every day and tip at the rate of 5 to 10%. My father drove a taxi for many years. It is a tough job often involving unsociable hours and unsociable passengers. Could a picture be made available of the woman complaining so that it can be circulated amongst all taxi drivers and can they have the option of not picking her up? No by law they must pick-up anyone and everyone. I am sure the prospect of a criminal record has caused great stress to the driver and his family. The woman involved should be ashamed of herself for behaving as a bully.
Exercising judgement is regrettably a skill that evades our bureaucrats.
Our highly paid and underworked civil servants do not want to take up the responsibilities associated with the high pay, and just do things "by the book". What a Shame! Shame on that woman as well for going through all these troubles for 50 cents which won't get you anything in Hong Kong anymore!
It is bovine, asinine and maverick.
How much did all the time, work, staff involvement, letter-writing and briefing of lawyer cost? It is quantifiable and should be taken off the police salaries.
Alex, I urge you to write this case vs Lamma ferry. The irony is lamma ferry killed 40+ people and yet government department and both ferry company was criticized by the independent report but yet no one from the department are charged with any fine or jail term, and yet the police was pursuing charges on 50 cents on a poor old taxi driver. What kind of society is Hk now?
Yes. Alex you must do. A culture that misses the tree would likely misses the forest as well. Not just a judgement call but an obligation.
Alex, what frustrated me more is on multiple radio I heard this morning people are not seeing what u and I see the fundamental and underlining implication. Rather people are focusing on solving the 50 cents problem by either preparing changes etc. what they all missed is the big picture. The big picture is what I said below earlier that i don't want to repeat myself. The irony is there were so many rip off in property sales in millions but there were little complaints. This incident also show Hk is breaking down as a society that people have zero trust and care on other. In this case, the women and various departments choose to believe the taxi driver was intended to cheat. But rather think it was a matter of practical "immaterial" issue and even consider as a gratitude to the taxi driver for that 50 cents you can't even use it in the wet market. As this was charging by the police so there will be no cost to the women and the taxi driver probably need to get lawyer or government aid, if quality, to defend himself. If the taxi driver was jailed, how happy is that women? because she got justice? Maybe she is not too busy at work. i bet she can goto wet market and put up 10 cases a day if she want justice, Not that affect already the driver's way of making a living and adding legal costs and anxiety. This show how the society is not caring for people as Long as it does not cost one anything.
Should she be charged for stealing her office hour time in dealing with the case? ( If she believe in the law so squarely) I'm sure she talked to many departments and agencies during office hours. I hope her boss knows.
HK is Asia's Kindergarten! Immature and childish behavior!
May be its time for HK to abolish the "cents" coins, and just keep the lowest denomination of $1 coin?
There is an important rule of law issue behind this and Lo's schoolboy logic fails give that sufficient emphasis. The fundamental point is that the passenger did not demand it at the time but went after it after the event. If a driver, given the opportunity to make good the shortfall on the spot, fails to do so, it would be right and proper that he be charged and convicted of the offence.
You're joking, right? You think it is good use of the judiciary's time and resources to prosecute a taxi driver who doesn't give back 50 cents? I am sorry, but that is not what I'd like to pay my taxes for.

Alex thx for bring this up. I'm very upset n felling shame of Hk: 1. People has no respect for low paid worker, 50 cents is already to low as stop; both this ICAC women client and Police has very poor judgement in terms of making decision to press charge wasting lots of tax payers money; where is our pan dem police critic mr. To, he should come our to criticize the police wasting resource? Because police was not wrong but just made poor judgement? Hk is a sick city as far as I'm concern from this incident as Police are well trained professional and this women is also a professional, and they made such a poor judgement with no respect to people.
waste of tax payers money. Typical of the HK complain culture. And the cabby wasnt even from the mainland !
I congratulate to both the woman and prosecutor for upholding what dues to her and dismissing for what lacks in evidence respectively. It shouldn’t be decried that all other concerned parties that led to the court lacks common sense. A culture that doesn’t respect even a cent has no hope to take rule of law seriously. I also see too often how common sense as an excuse undoing what is proper and missing what can be a great accomplishment. I want my 50 cents change please. Ask me first if you want to keep it.


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