My Take

Setting more rules won't solve Hong Kong's ills; enforce the ones we have

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 3:21am

Hong Kong has all the rules, regulations and laws bureaucrats can dream of. But often the problem is that they don't bother to enforce them.

Whenever a government department sets up a new task force or an initiative claiming a particular type of crime or violation is on the rise, you can be sure of one thing. They are finally admitting failure or negligence. Or rather, the problems have become so glaring they have to do something, but not admit to having failed or been negligent.

So in the past week, we have the police launching the so-called "Reno Safe" scheme to fight against dodgy contractors and triads involved in building renovations as if it's a new crime. At the same time, officials have proposed licensing subdivided flats in residential buildings.

Triad-affiliated contractors and decorators have been a problem for decades. One favoured tactic is to start work, make a complete mess, then demand more money before work can resume. Often, the contractor or subcontractor is just dishonest and is not necessarily a triad. Substandard work and materials, inflated prices and abusive behaviour are all part of their way to extract more money from their victims. If you don't pay, sometimes they call in debt collectors. You can call the police.

Sometimes they respond, sometimes they don't bother. In any case, it's difficult to prove a crime has been committed, as it often looks like a commercial dispute. The police now say we have more ageing buildings in need of renovation, hence the need for the new scheme.

Meanwhile, the Transport and Housing Bureau wants to license subdivided flats to ensure fire and buildings safety. But don't we already have these safety regulations in place? Either the proposed licensing aims to lower existing safety standards or official inspectors simply have not enforced them effectively.

Subdivided flats came under the spotlight when a fire in such a tenement building killed nine people in 2011; and even development secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and his wife were found to have owned such a property.

Well, at least the government is waking up to long-standing problems that have been left festering for a long time.

Better late than never!