Letters to the Editor, November 7, 2013
Refuse charge can change wasteful habits
In his letter, ("Don't trash the small guy for big business" October 27), Thomas Chow questions the fairness of the government's proposals to subsidise the replacement of old diesel commercial vehicles, while imposing charges for household waste.
His concerns touch on key aspects of the choice between incentives and penalties in environmental policy.
Why subsidise owners of these vehicles to phase them out? A key consideration is that many of the owners are small operators. The vehicle, though old, represents a major investment and is expensive to replace. It was bought at a time of lower awareness of the public health costs of pollution. Today we all know better.
In any event, it is not possible to deprive owners of a major capital asset without a reasonable arrangement, so we have proposed the subsidy.
Why charge for household (and business) waste? Unlike vehicles that have long working lives and represent capital investments, waste is generated daily, and parts of it are subject to consumer discretion, as demonstrated by response to the plastic bag levy.
Yes, some consumer goods come over-packaged. But with the proper incentive, buyers will begin to look for goods with less packaging. Over time, suppliers will have a financial motive to minimise packaging too, through consumer preference, as well as new government policy.
In environmental management, incentives or penalties are imposed with the intent of changing behaviour and they are in fact two sides of the same coin. The choice between them depends on a number of considerations, including fairness, administrative complexity, and how effective each will be.
While they are certainly not suitable for all aspects of environmental management, in the right situation incentives and penalties offer important advantages over controls that strictly dictate behaviour.
They provide flexibility, leaving people free to respond in their own way, while giving them a reason to do the environmentally responsible thing.
Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment
No justification for keeping golf courses
I disagree with those correspondents who believe the Hong Kong Golf Club's Fanling courses should be preserved for a small group of golfers. Do we need the number of golf courses that already exist in Hong Kong for a few golfers when there is not enough land to meet the housing needs of tens of thousands of people enduring poor living conditions?
I am sure the other courses in the city could accommodate those players displaced by the loss of the Fanling courses.
More than two-thirds of land in Hong Kong is undeveloped, but much of that land is not suitable for development, such as mountainous areas, parts of outlying islands and the closed area near the border.
Also, farmland in the New Territories is owned by different people and it can take time to settle compensation claims.
I have not read any arguments which have convinced me that these courses should be left untouched for the enjoyment of some of the wealthiest people in Hong Kong.
I agree that leisure facilities are important but are these courses being fully utilised? Will the residents of the new development zones nearby need them or will they require other leisure and social facilities? I think the government should redevelop the Fanling golf courses and the Northeast New Territories new towns together as part of a comprehensive plan.
I believe that the small-house policy is making it difficult for the government to build more flats. But because it is protected by the Basic Law, I do not see that policy being cancelled in the foreseeable future.
Solomon Lam Chun-yin,Tsuen Wan
Still waiting for end of beef monopoly
Earlier this year, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man referred to a study being undertaken to look into the existing beef monopoly.
The city's sole mainland beef distributor is Ng Fung Hong.
However, up till now nothing has happened to rectify what amounts to unfair trade.
Because of this, Hong Kong citizens keep on having to pay unreasonable prices for beef, two or three times prices charged over the border.
Why is this state of affairs allowed to continue? I suppose we should not be surprised that there are no further comments from the Hong Kong government on this matter, given its track record.
Joseph Lee, Quarry Bay
Having equal treatment best way forward
Anson Chan Fang On-sang has called on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's recently announced election task force to come up with concrete proposals that move the debate forward ("Election body needs solid proposals", October 26).
One concrete proposal is for the task force to mandate that the nominating committee must nominate at least two or three of the best people put forward by each of the main political groups - pan-democrats and pro-Beijing/communist - as candidates for chief executive. That it to say, an equal number of pan-democrats and pro-Beijing candidates must be nominated.
The principal political groups are thereby equally represented by two or three of their best candidates, plus a number of independents and other candidates who may qualify.
The people then choose the chief executive by universal suffrage.
This proposal recognises the reality of the actual situation in Hong Kong regarding the main political groups.
Even though it does not involve an election committee, it complies with the requirement of Article 45 of the Basic Law for selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee.
The election committee referred to in Annex 1 can be superseded.
It was envisaged that some amendment to Annex 1 would be required after 2007.
As stated by Ji Pengfei , chairman of the drafting committee for the Basic Law, to the National People's Congress in March 1990, "The method for selecting the chief executive was provided in an annex to make it more amenable to revision when necessary".
The certainty that the pan-democrats will be equally represented in the election for chief executive would help alleviate the concerns of people and defuse some of the political and social tensions in Hong Kong.
Allan Woodley, Sydney, Australia
Get talented mothers back to the office
I strongly believe that the government should offer more childcare services. It should also encourage firms to provide family-friendly policies such as flexible hours so that more mothers can rejoin the workplace, thereby alleviating staff shortages in different sectors.
Many mothers have sacrificed years to bring up their children.
They may be highly educated, with much sought-after professional skills and a lot of experience. If the government ensured more childcare facilities were available, many of these mothers might decide to rejoin the workforce and put their skills to good use.
This could help to alleviate staff shortages in offices. It would show that Hong Kong has genuine gender equality.
Some people might argue that after a few years away, these women are out of touch with changes in new technology. But, the government and firms could provide online programmes so that they could get up to date before returning to the office.
Lau On-yin, Lai Chi Kok
Protect our precious dolphins
You have to go on a boat trip to see how captivating the Chinese white dolphins are.
They now face great difficulties and their numbers have declined, from an estimated 158 in 2003 to just 78 in 2011.
The Chinese white dolphin became the official mascot of the 1997 handover. In effect, they represent the city and we have a duty to protect them.
Their numbers have diminished because of projects such as reclamation work at the airport, which took away much of their habitat near North Lantau.
Their quality of life is getting worse and I hope action can be taken to save them.
Nadia Lam, Tsim Sha Tsui
Very honest hikers from mainland
I would like to say a good word about some mainland visitors to Hong Kong.
One Saturday last month, I lost my wallet before starting a hike near Tai Mei Tuk and did not realise the loss until later.
I did not expect to see it again, but the next day I got a call from Sheung Shui police station telling me my wallet had been found and handed in by a group of mainland hikers.
When I went to collect it, everything was there, including my credit and Octopus cards and over HK$2,000 in cash. They left no personal details so I could not reward them for their good deed.
Leo Murray, Tsim Sha Tsui