Letters to the Editor, December 14, 2013

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 5:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 9:34am

Tax-avoiding firms cheat everyone

My letter ("Firm stance needed on tax loopholes", December 2) seems to have touched a raw nerve with John Chan ("Singapore is tax haven, just like HK", December 9).

Perhaps in his haste to defend Singaporean values against any perceived criticism from "arch-rival" Hong Kong he has totally missed my point.

Mr Chan suggests I should "watch my own backyard", but that was exactly my point, for I asked Hong Kong's financial secretary, John Tsang Chun-wah, to take action against loopholes, not Singapore's minister for finance, Tharman Shanmugaratnam. I agree with your correspondent that Singapore and Hong Kong may be viewed as tax havens by many other jurisdictions. I have no problem with this, as both places must look after their own interests.

But I do have a problem with companies, particularly multinationals, that avoid and evade paying their dues at source as a direct result of their use of local assets.

I disagree that this is a "flippant" matter. By applying methods of circuitous transfer pricing and service agreements between subsidiaries and sister companies, these companies essentially cheat their customers and clients. As an example, tax avoidance measures by Amazon, Google and Starbucks in the UK created British outrage and public protest.

It is most probable that taxes payable in Singapore have also taken a discounting long and winding road through such places as Delaware, Ireland, the Netherlands, and a variety of small Caribbean islands, as well as Hong Kong.

I am astonished that my letter has led to Mr Chan holding the opinion that I am "seeking to squeeze" Singapore's funds, and fail to comprehend why substituting profits tax with a corporate sales tax will shoot "Hong Kong's own two feet".

Charlie Chan, Mid-Levels


Is outcry over former ICAC chief political?

I am writing regarding the strong criticism levelled by legislators at former chief of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Timothy Tong Hin-ming. I have felt deeply concerned lest the matter should damage the good worldwide reputation of our anti-corruption body.

There seems no doubt Mr Tong spent a huge amount on entertainment. But was he the only one to provide mao-tai to his guests from China? Although I don't drink mao-tai, I know how popular it is at Chinese parties. I have never heard complaints about its usage.

While deploring the amount of money spent at Mr Tong's functions, I wonder if some of the outcry was due to political objections to his show of courtesy to his Chinese visitors.

Would Mr Tong's critics have preferred to praise the downright rudeness of governor Chris Patten towards the Chinese? How many readers have read the relevant chapter of Jonathan Dimbleby's The Last Governor? It is an eye-opener on Mr Patten's interference in politics during elections. Yet where was the criticism of those tactics in the book?

The fault I find in the high spending in government lies not with Timothy Tong alone, but with the system, which gives no clear guidance to senior officers on invitations, the number of guests and for what purpose.

Rules should be clearly set down, and regularly checked. Since the ICAC was set up for the worthiest of causes, the greatest care must be taken in the selection of all its officers.

During my days on Legco, every member had to give a monthly report of their expenditure. I was surprised and disappointed this system was cancelled, and there now seems to be no check on public money being spent by lawmakers or others who can claim expenses.

Surely the Tong case is due to a flawed financing system, and Legislative Council members should vote on the basis of justice, not their political prejudices.

Elsie Tu, Kwun Tong


Defending Ocean Park's dolphin shows

There has been a debate about whether Ocean Park should continue to keep dolphins in captivity to run dolphin shows.

I do not agree with those who say it is immoral.

First of all, the operation of dolphin shows provides job opportunities for all those involved in the training and welfare of the dolphins. Also, if the shows were cancelled, the theme park might not be as popular with visitors.

It has to be remembered the park has a conservation role.

I think of the plight of these creatures in the open sea, especially those in our waters, facing the pollution due to human activities.

At least the dolphins in Ocean Park are being afforded some protection.

Critics of the shows talk about the feelings of dolphins, but how can they really tell what these creatures are actually thinking?

Ocean Park is doing its best to promote and support conservation and protection of animals.

We should all push for environmental improvements, such as having a cleaner ocean.

Billy Lai Bo-wing, Ho Man Tin


KMB buses seem to come all at once

Perhaps KMB might like to explain why there are often two or three of their buses following one another on the same route, each one virtually empty.

Profitable bus firms, like any company, avoid duplication to reduce costs. Perhaps KMB might want to help themselves, the congestion they cause and the air they pollute, by paying more attention to operations and less to demands for more money for a fleet that is badly managed.

Mark Peaker, The Peak


Bird flu threat demands extra vigilance

I think further measures must be taken by the government following confirmation that Hong Kong recorded its first case of H7N9 bird flu on December 2.

It should serve as a warning to all Hongkongers to take all possible preventative measures to stop it spreading. This is the responsibility of the government and citizens. Officials must take any necessary measures, including shutting down those poultry vendors where there appears to be a risk.

All of us should pay careful attention to personal hygiene and ensure chickens are properly cooked. We must all fully co-operate with whatever measures are introduced by the government to try to stop the bird flu spreading.

Kathy Sze Mei-yi, Tsuen Wan


Universities must be above corruption

Although schools in China are no strangers to corruption, I am still taken by surprise when I read about similar allegations at universities ("Top university official detained in graft probe", November 28).

I was educated on the mainland from primary to tertiary level and had always felt corruption claims would be far-fetched at universities, because of the admission policies adopted, which cannot be tampered with.

It is a rigorous and systematic admission process where applicants' scores are passed through different levels. This makes it very difficult for students to get in through the back door by bribery.

This is a long-standing and well-established system and a single veto can lead to an application for a university place being rejected.

I really believe this allegation of corruption at Beijing's prestigious Renmin University is a rarity.

However, if I am wrong, this is a disturbing development. China's universities are highly regarded by the government and receive substantial funding. They are seen as the institutions that provide those talented people who can help the nation advance.

If they are now becoming corrupt and unqualified students gain the upper hand, this does not bode well for the nation's future.

Wang Yuke, Tai Wai


Poverty still a fact of life in South Africa

The 95,000-capacity stadium during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela was half empty, and the media blamed it on the rain.

Why would the rain stop the singing and dancing masses from participating in this final tribute to their redeemer?

Consider these facts. Alexandra township, home of the impoverished grass roots in South Africa, approximately 200,000 of them, is not far from Mandela's multimillion-rand residential compound in one of Johannesburg's richest suburbs.

Alexandra's multitudes of downtrodden are living in desperate poverty in substandard accommodation without running water, electricity or sanitation. They could not afford the bus fare to join with the political world's so-called elder statesmen, the great and the good, (hypocrites one and all - where were they during the years of struggle to rid the country of white rule?)

The end of apartheid changed little for the people in the many townships in South Africa like Alexandra.

Who is to blame? Who are the overlords and what is to be done?

It is sad but true, that people get the government - and saviours - they deserve.

John Charleston, Tuen Mun