Letters to the Editor, August 3, 2013
Mediation an alternative to the courts
I entirely agree with your editorial about mediation ("Mediation makes justice affordable", July 26). That Hong Kong has been slow to embrace mediation is in many ways a tribute to our court system. The courts should, however, only be a last resort.
As part of the 2009 civil justice reforms it was recognised that mediation can make an important contribution to cost-effective and amicable dispute resolution.
The courts made it clear at that time that they were prepared to impose costs sanctions if a party unreasonably refused to mediate and further impetus has also come from the recent Mediation Ordinance.
Mediation, as you point out, plays a vital role in resolving family disputes.
As I am aware from my involvement with the Hong Kong Mediation Council and my experience as a mediator, it is also becoming increasingly significant in the commercial context. Also, the Mediation Rules published jointly by the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre and the council for use before recourse to arbitration have helped Hong Kong in its development as a leading regional arbitration hub.
I would encourage any businesses with a commercial claim to consider giving it a try in the first instance.
Steven Yip, partner, Minter Ellison Lawyers
Stadium pitch fix shouldn't be outsourced
I refer to the recent round of mud-slinging as a result of the less-than-perfect pitch at Hong Kong Stadium.
Why does it take an overseas consultant, ironically from New Zealand, a country more famed for land erosion as a result of massive deforestation, to tell our hapless Leisure and Cultural Services Department that the pitch needs improved aeration and drainage? How revealing.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor visited Singapore to see how our once lesser competitor has for 10 years run rings around Hong Kong in terms of cultural and sport development. She may have found that Singapore trains local people who are talented, and who are connected to and have a passion for their city.
Surely given the millions who live in Hong Kong we can find the same talent and stop outsourcing at vast expense the jobs that Hong Kong people should be able to do, and do with pride.
Mark Peaker, The Peak
'Sorry' law would hide true faults
I refer to your editorial ("Making 'sorry' far easier to say", July 28).
You suggest that proposing a "sorry law" would help relieve the pressure on victims and government officers by enabling the latter to apologise. I have reservations about such legislation.
No doubt there are many officials who refuse to say sorry even when the media has revealed convincing evidence supporting accusations against them. But why don't these people apologise? I think the dominant reason is the desire to cling to power. This law would help them conceal their true faults and they would not be giving a wholehearted apology.
In effect, it would not be an expression of genuine regret. What is the point of this legislation if the civil servants concerned are not genuinely contrite?
They might feel that they were absolved of facing any further consequences for their actions and that the threat posed to them in terms of losing jobs had been eliminated. Under such circumstances they could be accused of hypocrisy.
An apology in this context would appear to be meaningless and hardly fair to those who had suffered as a result of the official's errors. It would look as though this law had been used to brush them off. That is not the proper way to resolve such a conflict.
What we need is the right kind of education which encourages people to admit their faults whenever they have done something wrong.
A reliable government should not have any officials who are reluctant to admit their faults.
Only those civil servants who are willing to publicly accept they were wrong, immediately after an incident has occurred, or a complaint has been lodged, should be allowed to keep their jobs.
Wong Po-yee, Kwai Chung
Ancestral land claim doesn't reflect reality
In the 1970s, to house a surging population, the government decided to build new towns in the New Territories.
Under its development plans the administration realised it would need to acquire land from the indigenous inhabitants who had lived there for generations.
To deal with potential resistance, it designed the small-house policy, which granted a plot of land to any indigenous male villager when they reached 18 to build a small house.
This was a practical policy which smoothed the way for the government to acquire the land it needed. As a consequence there were no serious incidents, and no stand-offs between indigenous inhabitants and officials over land rights.
Nevertheless, the official position was clear that the policy was an expedient measure to deal with the problem existing at that time. It was not designed as a long-term measure. Therefore, no indigenous inhabitant can argue that he has an undeniable and perpetual right to build a small house.
Now these inhabitants have come up with a new argument - cultural preservation. They say the small-house policy encourages indigenous people to stay on their ancestral land and, hopefully, continue their "traditional" way of village life. This nostalgic view is not borne out by the real state of affairs.
Various new towns have been established in the New Territories with millions of non-indigenous inhabitants.
Forty years ago, it took hours for an urban dweller to reach a traditional village. Nowadays, you could not draw a clear demarcation line between the rural and urban area on a map.
Moreover, for years, the new towns have encroached on the surrounding villages which have become, socially and economically, part of the urban area.
In fact, today, most so-called villagers' schooling, jobs, and social lives are in an urban setting. As the spatial, economic and social foundation has gone, it is hard to find a convincing example of "traditional" village life in Hong Kong.
Revoking the small-house policy carries serious political risks, such as prolonged legal battles and serious protests from the vested interest groups. But the government can make preparations and move towards this final step.
For example, if further restrictions are imposed on the transferability of small houses, their market value will decrease. Residence requirements will prevent those "indigenous inhabitants" who have emigrated from obtaining land. There is no doubt that the government must review this outdated policy.
Patrick Cheng, Tai Po
Fairness is the crux of Chan land outcry
I refer to the report ("Pressure grows on Chan in land row", July 25) regarding Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and an alleged conflict of interest.
The land in Kwu Tung North owned by Mr Chan's family has caused controversy, because it is in an area which has been earmarked for a new town.
The company through which the land was acquired in 1994 and which is now owned by the family of Chan's wife, Frieda Hui Po-ming, said it felt "unease that the land acquisition that took place 19 years ago has stirred up public speculation after Chan's appointment as the secretary".
In the report, Mr Chan's wife was also quoted as saying that as "a professional and a career woman" she had invested in land and properties, and had "suffered serious distress from the huge outcry".
I do not know whose idea it was to issue such statements, but I believe that they do not help Mr Chan in any way.
The reason for my saying that is because the crux of the issue is not the acquisition of the land, nor the investments made by his wife.
What matters is Mr Chan's reluctance to release full and accurate information of ownership in a timely fashion and the fact that he chose not to stay away from policy decisions when there was a potential conflict of interest. His behaviour of late has shown that he is still trying to evade responsibility by shifting the focus to his wife.
Fairness in our society not only has to be upheld, it has to be seen to be upheld.
Wilkie Wong, Yuen Long
Payout created millions of 'spoiled kids'
Ronnie Chan Chichung was right in deriding Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah for acting foolishly and irresponsibly. It needed to be said by a respected businessman who has done a lot of good in our society.
Mr Tsang said the HK$6,000 handout two years ago to all adult permanent residents was given after extensive government consultation, but this did not seem so.
In fact the handout was announced very soon after the 2011 budget speech and was a very offensive gesture to many.
It felt like an irate parent throwing a sweet to a spoiled child stamping its feet, to shut it up. This would not be responsible behaviour on the part of a parent, and the same goes for a government minister.
It was a badly-arrived-at, hasty decision, and failed to deal with the core sources of poverty in Hong Kong. Now Mr Tsang has millions of spoiled children wanting a sweet as soon as they don't like something. Let's see how he deals with that.
Traute Shaw, Mong Kok