Letters to the Editor, October 12, 2013
Critic should get out more, into our parks
Balakrishnan Narayanan has written the most confused treatise I have ever read on the country parks issue ("Don't spare parks just for nature-loving bullies", October 8).
Our country parks have absolutely nothing to do with feudal land ownership, preserving land for hunting, or indeed for the operation of golf courses. The idea that country parks are used only by the well heeled is preposterous.
Many do sensibly take the trouble to purchase decent footwear for trail walking, but it is hardly the preserve of the rich and famous, or even just the British.
Many Hong Kong people (and tourists) go into the countryside in summer, and enjoy "walking and picnicking" in the hot season, and appreciating "nature".
His words only demonstrate that he has never taken advantage of the solitude, space and open air that the parks provide.
The point Mr Narayanan avoids is simply that we have this natural resource, it should not be surrendered lightly, and that actually there is plenty of other land available for housing. And some of us do prefer grass to concrete, yes.
Graham Price, North Point
Protect rural retreats once and for all
Previous calls to develop our country parks seemed to have died down, but now they have been revived. It is like a fire that has gone out and yet a glowing ember remains. I wish this fire would die out.
These parks give city dwellers the chance to get in touch with nature. They help to improve people's quality of life. Some argue that their role is not significant, as not many citizens are nature lovers. However, it is important to have a balance so that a large urban conurbation also has green areas. If they diminish in size, people will be less concerned about environmental protection.
What matters is sustainability. We have to strike a balance between economic development and protecting the environment. If we destroy these rural areas, the image of the city will be spoiled.
Why reduce the size of these parks when we have other options?
There is land available for housing even though we may not have large areas.
Look, for example, at the land allocated for indigenous males in the New Territories, under the small-house policy. And yet they represent a tiny percentage of the population. Once the country parks have gone, they have gone forever.
Candice Wong Yuen-shan, Tsing Yi
Incompetence the real cause of gridlock
P. C. Law chooses to attack private car ownership as public enemy number one ("Cars given priority over mass transit", October 8).
In fact, the government is incompetent and mismanaging many facets of transport. Buses operating at far under capacity are clogging roads.
New World First Bus cannot sort its schedules; on many routes buses arrive in rapid succession, operating at far under capacity.
On other routes, buses are so packed that the infirm, elderly, mothers holding babies, are all squashed together relentlessly.
I have written to New World First Bus about its route 13 many times and even brought it to the attention of the Transport Department, but the bus firm refuses to remedy the situation.
Despite much coverage in Lai See and other forums, illegal parking/obstruction of traffic is mostly unregulated.
I regularly take a bus route that snakes through Central, and the same blockages occur in the same places every day.
Queen's Road Central near New World Tower is permanently being blocked by cars and vans parked on the left, causing bottlenecks. I have never seen a traffic warden or police officer present there.
It is the same when you turn up D'Aguilar Street, and Wellington Street is clogged with illegally parked vehicles permanently, and it continues on Lyndhurst Terrace and again on Arbuthnot Road, where illegally parked people movers block two-way traffic.
In more than 15 years of travelling this route, I have only occasionally seen wardens or officers making a token trot down streets, waving vehicles off, then disappearing, only to have the same offenders go around the block and go right back to clogging the street.
A little more effort on the part of our bloated and overstaffed police force, and raising illegal parking fines to the same level as tossing a tissue on the ground (HK$1,500), would go a long way towards unclogging this cluttered city.
Bernard Lo, Mid-Levels
Right to stop young runners racing 10km
I agree with the decision of the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association to bar runners from the 10-kilometre race of the Hong Kong Marathon who are under 16.
The main reason for backing it is the safety issue. These youngsters will be competing with much larger and stronger adults. They are still growing and could easily get tired during the latter stages of the race.
They should not be too impatient about taking part. Once they are old enough, they will be able to sign up and will have the physical capability to do this.
I appreciate that some young athletes might do well in the event, but I still think this was the right decision by the association.
Lu Suet-ki, Sha Tin
Face the music for Maestro misfire, HSBC
HSBC likes to send out the message that it is a world bank, but with a local flavour.
Unfortunately, its systems appear to have broken down and it is debatable whether either description holds good.
It advertises that it accepts Maestro cards but that is not so in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, Standard Chartered does accept Maestro cards and in Thailand, which I recently visited, all banks (none of which were known to me) accepted my Dutch Rabo card. It seems that the only bank in Asia that does not is HSBC.
This is a particular problem for tourists arriving in Hong Kong and especially for those in areas like Discovery Bay (where I am staying), where HSBC effectively has a monopoly.
I don't know what HSBC has done but I did not have this issue in February. However, I know that HSBC cardholders living in Hong Kong have had the same problem when they are outside the SAR. It is time for HSBC to update its systems.
If it cannot offer Maestro services, it should stop saying it does in its advertising.
Duncan Cessford, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Evidence clean on smugglers' smoking gun
On October 2 in Hong Kong, Oxford Economics and the International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC) released the Asia-11 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2012, a first study of its kind in Asia ("One in three HK cigarettes illegal: study", October 3).
The intention of the study is to help governments in the region set benchmarks in measuring illicit tobacco trade.
I am writing to make clear on the record that Oxford Economics and ITIC prepared the report independently and without bias. We enjoyed full academic freedom and editorial control.
We used a similar methodological approach to that of the annual study conducted by KPMG (KPMG STAR) in the European Union.
The KPMG STAR study has been endorsed by the European Commission's anti-fraud office (OLAF).
Our study found that in 2012, 35.9 per cent of all cigarettes consumed in Hong Kong were illicit. This amounted to 1.8 billion illegal cigarettes and cost the Hong Kong government a staggering HK$3.3 billion in lost tax revenues.
This put Hong Kong second in 11 Asian countries surveyed, in illicit consumption (as a total share of market) behind Brunei, which has a similarly high excise tax rate.
Adrian Cooper, CEO, Oxford Economics, Oxford, England
Blast reveals scandal of housing safety
I refer to the report ("Fatal gas blast in subdivided flat", October 6).
This incident highlights the need for the government to look again at the risks involving these subdivided units. It should ensure tougher punishments for people found guilty of constructing illegal structures such as these apartments.
Hong Kong's housing problems go back decades. Recent accidents prove that living conditions for many people have actually deteriorated.
There are still so many subdivided units, especially in densely populated urban areas. These flats often have only gas canisters for cooking and are a fire hazard. When there is a blaze, because of the overcrowded conditions, it is often difficult for residents to get out to safety.
The government's procedure for safety inspections of buildings is clearly inadequate and inefficient. Inspection teams must be far more thorough even when they meet resistance from residents.
Tenants choose to live in this kind of substandard accommodation because they are poor and the rents are low.
Our housing problems are complex. However, I do hope that one day in this international finance hub, the basic requirements of all citizens will be satisfied.
Vicky Tong, Sha Tin