Letters to the Editor, February 8, 2013

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 3:25am

Local pupils deserve pick of school places

There have been reports of children who live in Sheung Shui not being able to get into schools in North District while Hong Kong-born mainland children can get a place ("Struggle for 1,400 primary places", January 26). I believe that Hong Kong families should be given priority in the allocation of places at these schools.

A priority policy should be in place not just for education, but for other services, including welfare, because people living locally contribute to the government budget as Hong Kong taxpayers.

It is those taxes which go to pay for all these services.

I think it is ridiculous that local children should have to compete with children whose parents are both mainlanders for something to which they are entitled.

It is perfectly reasonable for schools to give admissions priority to local pupils.

Some people argue that this would not be fair to children from over the border, but refusing locals priority in the district in which they live would seem to be to be even more unfair.

I accept that under our laws, these Hong Kong-born mainland children are entitled to be citizens and therefore have the right to an education here, but local families should still be given first choice of schools for their children.

Ho Tsz-sum, Tai Wai


Government must preserve 'food heaven'

A classic old Hong Kong-style cafe, Lei Yuen Congee Noodles, in Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, has closed down after 42 years of business due to an absurd increase in rent.

With each visit back to my hometown, I have noticed the increasing numbers of food chains throughout Hong Kong, with a Cafe de Coral or Fairwood at every corner, and in virtually every shopping centre.

This has caused me to doubt the renowned position of Hong Kong as "food heaven".

The closure of Lei Yuen has only reaffirmed my doubts and concern about local cuisine facing extinction.

Food is a large part of tourism, a sector which generates substantial revenue for the Hong Kong government.

Ironically, the main selling point of our local flavourful cuisine is succumbing to commercialism and capitalist exploitation.

I believe the government should protect our local cafes and the speciality food they serve from ridiculous inflation, in order to prevent Hong Kong losing its much valued tourists and the hearts of the locals.

Rebecca Sum, Vancouver, Canada


Public wards just what the doctor ordered

I could not agree more with Dr Judith Mackay's letter on the city's public hospitals ("HK's public hospitals are excellent", January 29).

A year ago, I had a life-threatening emergency health crisis. The ambulance staff and the public hospital's emergency doctors were efficient, effective, and quickly diagnosed my problem.

By then I was in and out of consciousness.

They transferred me to another public hospital for immediate major surgery.

In my 27 days in the hospital, I saw how dedicated and professional the doctors, nurses, cleaning ladies, meal dispensers all were. They're short of staff and have no time for chit-chat, but they were efficient in their work and took excellent care of all of us in the ward.

I stress I was not in a private or semi-private room; I was in a ward. I owe my life to the staff of the public hospital.

Elizabeth Ip, Happy Valley


Breastfeeding can combat child allergies

I refer to the report ("Food allergies taking a high toll", January 29).

I have no medical training, but common sense would suggest a simple answer to the study which has found that more "Hong Kong children suffer from severe allergic reactions than the international average".

I think the obsession many Hong Kong mothers have with powdered baby formula is a major factor which contributes to their children's low tolerance to these allergies from an early age.

The government should do more to inform mothers and provide support if they wish to keep breastfeeding.

Hans Wergin, Cheung Chau


Baby milk quota flouts WTO rules

The Hong Kong government plans to enact an export quota on its baby milk formula of two tins per trip in the near future.

I express no political view as to whether there is a practical need for Hong Kong to impose this measure. However, from the viewpoint of international trade law, I feel that it could contravene World Trade Organisation regulations, which prohibit quantitative export restrictions between WTO members.

Hong Kong has been a WTO member since January 1995 as a separate customs territory. From that point, WTO regulations applied to trade relationships between the city and mainland China, which is also a WTO member.

One of the most important legal documents of the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994, has generally prohibited any import or export quantitative restrictions between WTO members (Article XI:1). One of the exceptions pertinent to this issue, however, is that one may use export restrictions which are "temporarily applied to prevent or relieve critical shortages of foodstuffs… essential" to a WTO member (Article XI:2(a)).

In the present case, if the proposed measure is eventually enacted, Hong Kong is likely to contravene Article XI:1 since its export quota is clearly a type of quantitative export restriction. Hong Kong may shield itself by using Article XI:2(a), but if one looks closer into WTO case law, one may see that this exception is not likely to be applicable to Hong Kong, since the proposed export restriction measure is neither "temporarily applied", nor is the current lack of baby formula likely to qualify as a "critical shortage".

I feel this proposed measure could constitute a contravention of WTO laws.

Even if the practical prospect for China or other WTO members to bring an action against this measure is seemingly scarce, the mere existence of a WTO-inconsistent measure in Hong Kong is more than enough to damage this city's image as a free port and a hub of international trade, where the self-regulating behaviour of the marketplace is respected.

Kelly Shang, Maastricht, the Netherlands


Loan arranger deaf to appeal of over-60s

If you are over 60 and have been a client of HSBC for 30 years plus, it seems you needn't even think about trying to get a short-term personal loan from the bank - you are too old.

Last week, I applied to get a loan to cover a temporary cash flow shortage. I was told I was over 60 and it was doubtful the loan would be approved. When I asked for an explanation of this policy, I was told most people over 60 are usually retirees and this is why the bank has this policy, an impertinent assumption at the very least.

On no fewer than three occasions during the discussion, the age cut-off was mentioned to me - twice by junior customer service staff and once by the duty manager of the loan department.

It took me more than 24 hours of perseverance to speak to the duty manager.

Even then it was impossible to get a satisfactory explanation from this person, who referred to the fact that it was a "back office" decision.

I am a co-owner of a small and successful limited company employing more than 15 people.

I will be moving my accounts to a more customer- friendly bank because for sure "the bank that listens" has lost the plot so far as customer service is concerned.

Helen M. Barker, Pok Fu Lam


Phone masts on homes pose questions

I was interested to read your reports regarding the mobile phone antennae that raised health concerns at the University of Science and Technology ("Bad reception on campus", January 27) and ("University removes antennae", February 3).

I would like to point out that this problem is not confined to government-owned buildings in Hong Kong, and extends to luxury flats.

Last week, I was viewing flats to rent at Hong Kong Parkview, when I looked out of the window of a flat and saw about eight mobile phone antennae on top of the serviced apartments (Towers 1 and 2) pointed directly at other residential towers. I later learned they were put up a few weeks ago. In fact, the antennae were pointed directly at a room where our child would have been sleeping, as well as the dining room and kitchen. I declined to view any more flats at Parkview.

Given that there are many families with children at Parkview and there is also a pre-school there, I wonder if the residents and flat owners were consulted before these radiation-emitting antennae were erected, and could it affect the value of their properties?

Is this a larger problem in Hong Kong, and should there be clear regulations on where mobile phone antennae are erected and where they are directed?

Tom Dunn, Mid-Levels