‘The World Owes Me A Living’ lobby deserves to be ignored

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 June, 2016, 12:08am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2016, 12:08am

Link Asset Management chairman Nicholas Charles Allen and his top management team have pledged to review their business practices in the wake of criticism over the impact of its policies on small stallholders, the disabled and non-governmental bodies.

SCMP, June 17

The silliest of these examples of “criticism” was a Sha Tin district councillor complaining that management was evasive because it did not respond to his query on whether the government should buy back The Link.

Classic political grandstanding. Of course Mr Allen will not stick his foot in this trap. I’m sure he knows the public would be badly served by such a foolish move but, as chairman of The Link, he is the last person to offer his views on it in public. District councillors who cannot understand this should not ask questions in public.

Mind you, I suspect this was actually a case of a minor politician trying to bait a perceived opponent out of ideological motives. Mr Allen was right not to respond.

But let us look more closely at the complaint that certain political advocacy groups masquerading as philanthropies (ie non-governmental organisations or NGOs), have been deprived at Link premises of rent discounts to which they are entitled.

If they were truly entitled to these discounts they could make their complaint directly to our courts.

They have not done so and I think no such entitlements exist. They were merely concessions granted by the Housing Authority before it sold its commercial properties to outside investors as The Link.

The HA could, if it wanted, have written the concessions into the sales agreement, but it did not. It wanted the money and such concessions would have brought down the sales price.

Thus if the NGOs now feel betrayed, it is not The Link that perpetrated this supposed treachery on them, but the government through the HA. Their recourse is to pick up their placards and wave them at the bureaucrats in the protest ground made famous by Occupy Central.

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Similarly, the HA could have stipulated in the sale of its properties that disabled car owners must always get parking fee discounts in Link car parks and that this obligation would also be binding on any new owners of these car parks should Link sell them.

It was not done. Once again, it would have brought down the sales price and the HA chose the money instead. The Link has in fact granted such discounts, but is hardly obligated to bind later purchasers of these car parks to such discounts if the HA did not do so.

There is also a more general way of looking at this. If these discounts comprise a legitimate social need then they should hardly be binding on The Link alone. The government should long ago have legislated them for all retail premises and car parks in Hong Kong. It has not done so.

Even this assumes that such indirect social assistance is the best way to go. I am not sure of it at all. I think a far better route is to provide direct monetary benefit to those we think worthy of assistance and let the recipient be judge of where it is best spent.

But whatever route we take I think it certainly wrong to demand that the moral imperatives of any one group in society should be made selectively binding on any other group.

If we all agree that it’s a good thing then it’s a good thing for all and let the Legislative Council make it so. If not then The Link should no more be bound than any shop on Nathan Road.

The fact is that Link took undervalued and badly organised shop stalls in public housing ancillary services facilities blocks and turned them into proper shopping malls that are better patronised than the grim facilities blocks ever were.

Along the way it raised the rents, which it could do because more people are shopping there now and the shop revenues are growing. This disturbs a public housing lobby that goes by the name of The World Owes Me A Living.

I congratulate Mr Allen on his restraint in facing this lobby.