Letters to the Editor, November 22, 2013
Protection essential for rural enclaves
These days, it is quite hard to clearly see Tai Mo Shan from Hong Kong Island.
This is because more frequently we have days with smog. Air pollution is nothing new for Hong Kong citizens.
Therefore, it is strange, when looking at green issues in our city, that, on the one hand, the government is trying to put forward a message of the importance of environmental protection, and on the other, it is discussing the possible development of parts of our country parks for housing.
Similarly, it has backed the hotel development at Lugard Road, and Heung Yee Kuk leader Lau Wong-fat is proposing a motion to block the incorporation of Tai Long Sai Wan into Sai Kung East Country Park. Now there are reports of a village housing scheme at remote Pak Lap Wan ("Planned villages 'threaten enclave'", November 18). All these issues illustrate that awareness of the need for environmental conservation in Hong Kong is still very weak.
Any construction work in enclaves or country parks is likely to involve the removal of trees. They are such an important part of our green areas, and a crucial part of the habitat of many plants and animals, that I cannot understand why the administration would support projects that would lead to their destruction.
If the government or Town Planning Board allows building work in some enclaves, they could be damaged beyond repair.
I hope that the administration will withdraw any plans for village-type developments in the country park enclaves.
Candice Cheung, Chai Wan
Protest merely highlights folly of archaic right
I read with disgust about villagers disrupting the long-standing Trailwalker, which raises money for charity, in pursuit of their own selfish concerns ("Oxfam hiking event blocked by village protest", November 16).
In this day and age, when Hong Kong is struggling to find suitable development areas to build homes for those who are in genuine need, our city still embraces an archaic agreement on village houses.
This ensures that there is a subset of people who are "entitled" to a plot of land just because they are born male. At a time when private clubs' leases are being scrutinised by officials ("Private clubs face losing land after review", November 15), why is this "entitlement" not also being reconsidered?
What value do these villagers add to Hong Kong in general?
All I seem to read is negative press reports regarding illegal structures and demonstrations over public encroachment of their "private" land.
You have struggling, middle-class, dual-income families who may have to wait years to own affordable housing, and yet if you are a villager and a male, you have hit the proverbial jackpot.
The problems that we have with land scarcity mean it is time the government had a look again at the small-house policy, if it is concerned about offering affordable housing to all Hongkongers.
B. Ma, Admiralty
No place for 'sukuk' bonds in HK market
I refer to the article ("Bonds of faith", November 15), on Hong Kong's issue of its first sharia-compliant bonds (or sukuk).
It paints these sukuk in a completely positive light, but that is not the whole story.
Sukuk are inefficient. Many Islamic banks promote a ban on usury as it accrues interest. But no bank can work for free, so deals are structured with sale and buy-back of artificial "assets" with profit margins at levels equivalent to prevailing interest rates.
The pre-eminent Muslim scholar of sharia finance, Timur Kuran, notes that all Islamic banks actually give and take interest routinely, using "ruses" to make interest appear as a return for risk.
In short, they are an elaborate ploy of form over substance, and inefficient because of that structure: sukuk have fees up to 20 per cent higher than standard.
Is it right that we, the taxpayers, should be expected to pay for this inefficiency by exempting taxation on the transfer of underlying assets, an exemption not granted to any other financial instrument?
Sukuk are discriminatory. Banned investments include not only alcohol and gambling. They are also not permitted to invest in companies that benefit non-Islamic religions; companies that promote equal rights for women and gays; companies involved with Western books, films or media; and companies linked to Israel.
Is it right for Hong Kong to promote manifestly anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynist financial instruments?
Sukuk are an Islamist programme. Sharia finance was first promoted by the Pakistani Islamist Sayyid Al-Mawdudi, founder of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, in the 1960s. It is promoted today by Islamists like influential Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi as being "jihad with money".
According to Professor Kuran, "Mawdudi's aim … was to reassert Islam's importance … [to] defy the common separation between economics and religion… to invoke Islamic authority." Sharia banking, he says, boosts the global movement of Islamism. Is it right for Hong Kong to support the work of global Islamists?
Sukuk perform badly. As for sharia finance's alleged success, that is moot: In the UK, sharia-compliant banking has been a huge flop.
Our government should reconsider its support for an innately inefficient, discriminatory and poorly performing religious financial product.
Peter Forsythe, Discovery Bay
Disgusting travellers put feet on tables
As a frequent flyer, I do regularly use the first-class lounges of Cathay Pacific, which is my preferred airline.
It always disgusts me when I see other visitors to the lounge putting their feet on the coffee tables and doing so with their shoes still on.
They may be entitled to be in an airline's first-class lounge, but by this kind of behaviour, they show no class at all and total disrespect towards their fellow travellers, who have to place their food and drink on these tables.
I have suggested to Cathay that it should place signs on the tables which say it is forbidden to put your feet there.
Also, staff should be instructed to tell passengers that this is a "no-no", just as it is unacceptable to lie on the sofa in the lounge with your feet up and again with your shoes on.
I hope that Cathay and other airlines will take note of this letter, as well as those visitors to these lounges who put their feet up.
It is not too long ago, during the Sars epidemic, that people were walking around with disinfectant, spraying all surfaces.
Jeffry Kuperus, Clear Water Bay
No gesture too small in war against waste
It has been estimated by the government that all our landfills will reach capacity by 2019. Because of this, officials have been trying to come up with ways to deal with this problem, such as extending the landfills.
Earlier this year, the administration published the "Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022".
Its target is to cut by 40 per cent the amount of rubbish each person in Hong Kong dumps in landfills by 2022.
It plans to do this through incineration and a waste charge. However, some groups are pessimistic about the target being achieved.
I do have reservations about the blueprint. However, I think it is important for all Hong Kong citizens to be more considerate and aware of the need to look after our city.
We should all make a conscious decision to reduce the quantity of waste we create and generally be more environmentally aware. It will be too late to act once the three remaining active landfills reach capacity.
All householders can decide to use energy more efficiently. Set air conditioners at 25.5 degrees Celsius during the summer and aim for efficient use of water. They should also bring their own shopping bags. Wherever possible they should recycle. We should not underestimate how effective such actions can be.
Katrina Cheung Ching-yu, Kwai Chung
Left in the dark about scientific achievements
The annual Shaw Prize, which is given to the world's top scientists, is a great encouragement to innovators who are trying, through their scientific work, to make life better for humans.
However, little is done to explain to the public what these people have done so most of us are left in the dark about their achievements.
There are, for example, no film presentations in the Science Museum, or lectures at one of our universities, to explain in detail why these men and women have won the prize. An opportunity is being lost for citizens, including science fans, to learn something valuable.
I also wonder if Run Run Shaw, founder of the prize, could have a similar, but maybe not quite as prestigious, prize for those local scientists who through their work - such as environmental protection and medical science - have helped to improve the lives of Hong Kong people. It will also be a boost to these researchers, proving that their efforts are supported by local people.
I would like to see an annual science festival day. It would be like other special days, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, and would encourage more people to get involved in developing and discovering new technology.
Pang Chi-ming, Fanling