Letters to the Editor, November 10, 2012
Impartiality must be the legal standard
I read with misgivings the dubious claim of Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary, former permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal, that his "liberalism" cost him an extended appointment despite his impeccable understanding of Hong Kong's legal relations with China ("Former judge: 'I was ousted for being too liberal'", November 5).
Contrast his public admission of "liberal" inclination with US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts' emphasis on impartiality in a recent speech. He stressed that Supreme Court judges don't look at cases and resolve them "in terms of a particular liberal or conservative agenda".
In Hong Kong and the US, where courts enjoy judicial independence, the standard of justice is impartiality. A judge who allows political sympathy or ideological inclination to affect bench decisions would be in breach of the oath of office.
The Basic Law which provides the framework for Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" relationship with China is not simply a manual of job division between local and central authorities. To honour their office oath, judges must apply Basic Law provisions in agreement with their enactment purpose which, as stipulated in the preamble, is to ensure the implementation of China's basic policies regarding Hong Kong. Bench activism incompatible with this framework is divisive.
Judges in Hong Kong shouldn't pretend to have unquestionable understanding of the implications of China's policies at all times. When in doubt, they can consider the referral practice of national courts in the EU. The UK Supreme Court, for example, must "interpret domestic law so far as possible consistently with EU laws" and "refer to the European Court of Justice any question of European Union law, where the answer is not clear and is necessary for it to give judgment". The Hong Kong and China relationship is much closer than that of the UK and the EU.
"Liberalism" can't be the standard to resolve legal issues. The UK and the US share liberal ideals and the common law tradition. In contrast, according to Ayn Rand, "Europe is a tribal culture" where individuals are "expendable cells". But the UK has decidedly crossed both the common law/civil law barrier and the liberalism/conservatism barrier for judicial affiliation with Europe.
This only shows that national interest overrides jurisprudence and ideologies in the pursuit of justice.
Pierce Lam, Central
Technology offers us true democracy
Jake van der Kamp is correct when pointing out the archaic and self-serving nature of consulates ("Goodbye consulates, and please just keep on going", November 6).
A parallel argument may be applied to representative politics. Why do we need party politicians to decide issues for us, when modern technology facilitates direct democracy? Why are we still influenced by the so-called democratic structures of the Washington and Westminster models? They are well past their "sell-by" date, and viewed from the world of modern technology, the excruciatingly long-drawn-out process to elect the president of the US is a farce.
Since 1997, Hong Kong has lost its mojo, and the present political structures have become so anaemic that decisions which pre-1997 would have taken weeks now roll on seemingly forever without resolution.
Our out-of-touch and overpaid civil servants appear content to wallow in bureaucratic stupor, and our political parties seem to possess the vision of snails. It would be far better for Hong Kong to decide its matters by an ongoing monthly referendum. The executive would propose, the judiciary would frame clear questions, the Legislative Council would advocate, the populace would decide, and civil servants would implement.
Hong Kong should be seriously thinking how to introduce real democracy in the 21st century, instead of the current navel-gazing.
Frank Lee, Mid-Levels
More sleep could get Lam 11 out of 10
Our chief secretary, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, expressed personal satisfaction with performing her duties as the number two official of our government ("Chief secretary 'shaken' by old-age allowance outcry", November 3).
She is the most popular member of the government, and is therefore justified to be happy with the job she has done.
Mrs Lam gives herself 10 points on a scale of one to 10.
Notably, she stated that she "sleeps well every night, but just not quite enough".
I wonder how much better the people of Hong Kong would be served if our chief secretary was getting enough sleep.
Marian Schneps, Wan Chai
In support of emergency services
I refer to the letter by Eddie Wong Kwok-wai of the Police Public Relations Branch ("Aim to answer 999 calls in nine seconds", November 6) replying to G. Marques ("Delays on 999 call line were unacceptable", October 30).
In cities and most countries, 999 call lines get busy, but your correspondent seemed to feel his call should get priority.
As Chief Superintendent Wong pointed out, there might be heavy call traffic when there is a serious incident.
People should realise they have other options. For example, they can always call their nearby police station. In fact, I have found the 999 service to be very efficient.
When there was an incident at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station in 2008, I called 999 and officers were there in 10 minutes and it was all resolved within 30 minutes.
Pang Chi-ming, Fanling
Target the most needy for old-age cash
I agree with those who argue that more consultation is needed with stakeholders regarding the proposed Old Age Living Allowance.
The money to pay for this scheme comes from Hong Kong citizens who work hard to pay tax. We must make sure that the allowance goes to those old folk who are really in need. It would be unfair if taxpayers' money was improperly used.
Officials should also reconsider the asset limit for those eligible for the allowance as some elderly with meagre savings could find they lose out. I hope there will be no further delays in implementing this scheme.
Valerie Suen, Tai Po
Rebate homes tax for expats who stay on
Fraser Milne says that Shanghai and Singapore will be laughing now that Hong Kong has introduced a property tax on foreigners ("Property tax might lead to exodus of foreign citizens", November 6).
He is clearly unfamiliar with those markets. Any mirth they feel is likely to arise from Hong Kong copying them in prioritising locals buying property.
Shanghai imposed restrictions on foreigners purchasing property in 2006 and recently introduced new measures preventing them from obtaining mortgage loans. Singapore applied a 10 per cent foreign buyer stamp duty last year.
The Hong Kong government is justified in putting locals first in the context of the property market. The recently introduced policy should have a knock-on effect on rental prices, which will help locals and foreigners. However, the policy disadvantages those who intend to make Hong Kong their home, but have still not met the seven-year rule for permanent residency. Such cases have been highlighted in this newspaper and I sympathise.
Perhaps the government could consider rebating the 15 per cent tax to those buyers who subsequently become permanent residents, and allowing banks to lend against this in excess of the currently permitted loan-to-value ratios.
Steven Pang, Sai Kung
Bottleneck bridge needs traffic lights
Last week, I was driving a couple of car-lengths behind a small truck near the end of Tai Tam bridge, at Tai Tam Reservoir Road, when a huge Hong Kong International School bus drove onto it from the opposite direction, bringing traffic to a standstill.
The wheels of the bus were well over onto our side of the road and, with large wing mirrors, it was clear the truck could not squeeze past. After sitting on the bridge for at least 10 minutes, with traffic piling up, I got out of the car to try and resolve the matter. A few drivers behind the bus gave up and drove away.
The bus mother got up from her seat and told me that they were on the bridge first and were therefore not moving. I said the truck was almost at the end of the bridge, so was obviously on the bridge well before the bus. But, more importantly, what were they going to do about it? The bus mother replied that she had called the police, and would let them sort it out as this happened all the time. I persuaded the bus driver to reverse into the spaces left behind it, which left just enough room for my car to weave through.
This bridge is hardly wide enough for two cars, let alone two large vehicles. Would it not be a logical solution to place traffic lights at either end?
Philippa Osborn, Shouson Hill