Letters to the Editor, January 23, 2014
Unite behind fight against poverty in HK
Just under three years ago at a press conference, then premier Wen Jiabao was asked about the widening wealth gap in Hong Kong. He said that with enough government revenue and ample foreign exchange reserves Hong Kong should "improve its social safety net".
He said the city had to take care of vulnerable groups.
As Hong Kong is a "local administrative region" of China, with a high degree of autonomy that comes directly under the central government (Basic Law Article 12), Wen's concern about social conditions in Hong Kong was understandable.
In last week's policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying outlined a poverty alleviation policy. It will "encourage young people and adults to become self-reliant through employment, while putting in place a reasonable and sustainable social security and welfare system to help those who cannot provide for themselves".
The Hong Kong Civic Association believes the chief executive is genuinely committed to make this promise come true in the coming years.
We believe too the financial secretary will work closely with the chief executive to achieve this much-needed social goal while adhering to the principle of keeping the budget "commensurate with the growth rate of [Hong Kong's] gross domestic product" in conformity with the Basic Law.
Our association would urge legislative councillors, district councillors and community leaders to put political differences aside and join forces with the government to implement its blueprint for poverty alleviation and improving the quality of life for Hong Kong people.
Hilton Cheong-Leen, president, Frederick Lynn, chairman, Hong Kong Civic Association
Time to stop using cash accounting
I read Professor Liu Pak-wai's proposal to separate out land revenue from the government's accounts to stop it being used to fund recurrent expenditure with amazement ("'Keep land revenue windfalls separate'", January 17).
The fact is that land revenue is already effectively hypothecated to infrastructure expenditure through the Capital Works Reserve.
Thus, we are already the only economy in the world to pay cash for all long-term infrastructure projects.
If the learned professor wants to help the general public gain greater insight into public finances, he needs to urge the financial secretary to stop using cash accounting and base our fiscal decisions on the accruals accounts which are already published annually.
Stephen Brown, Tai Po
Do not destroy stockpile of illegal ivory
The mainland authorities are so determined to combat the illegal ivory trade that 6.1 tonnes of confiscated ivory was destroyed in Dongguan earlier this month.
This led to calls for Hong Kong to follow suit and destroy its stockpile of illegal tusks.
It is necessary to put a stop to the ivory trade as African elephants face a struggle to survive given the prevalence of poachers.
Despite a ban on the international trade in ivory coming into force in 1990, the killing continues, because there is demand, especially from China. Therefore, it is time to take drastic measures.
I do not think destruction of Hong Kong's stockpile is the right solution.
Crushing the ivory will not bring the elephants back to life. It can be used as a valuable educational tool. Teachers can use the tusks in lessons in school to get the message across about the devastating effects of poaching on elephant populations. It would certainly be a memorable lesson which would make a strong impression.
When they actually see the product in the classroom, students will have a greater appreciation of what is happening and they are more likely to be opposed to the ivory trade. Also, there could be an exhibition mounted in a museum using some of the confiscated ivory.
Some of the ivory could be carved into artworks depicting how the elephants suffer at the hands of poachers.
I think by adopting these measures, the government would be showing that these elephants did not die in vain.
Avis Law Cheuk-wun, Ma Wan
Laws that protect maids are flouted
The laws in Hong Kong governing domestic helpers are either flawed or not enforced. That has nothing to do with race, it's simply a fact.
These laws basically give the helper no chance when up against her employer, her agency and the indifference of police and immigration officers.
Anyone who has had anything to do with domestic helpers other than as an employer will know that cases of abuse have been going on for years without action being taken. I went some years ago to the Immigration Department with a list of eight grievances that a helper had against her employer. The result was a one-day extension of the 14-day rule [requiring workers to leave within two weeks of the end of their employment contract], but no interest in exploring the matter further.
Letters to the newspapers elicit replies from the "if they don't like it, let them try Malaysia/Saudi Arabia" brigade. And they're correct in that Hong Kong is better than some countries. But that excuses abusive treatment? I would like to give two examples of the laws not being enforced.
First, the contract entitles the helper to her own space. Now anyone with half a brain knows that this is impossible in most Hong Kong apartments, unless the family is limited to two or possibly three people. Nonetheless, the Immigration Department happily issues permits to families which clearly cannot fulfil this legal requirement.
The government has a record of the sizes of apartments here and who lives there. Any doubt about the flat's suitability and the potential employer should be questioned.
Secondly, under labour laws, all employees in Hong Kong (and it is specifically in the helper's contract) are entitled to a full 24-hour rest day.
Go to Central, Wan Chai or Causeway Bay MTR stations at around 7.15 on a Sunday evening and you will see many domestic helpers rushing to return to their employer's flat. This is because they have been told they have to be back in the flat by 8 or 9pm. I have spoken to some of them to confirm this is the case.
They have also told me they cannot leave until 8 or 9am that morning in order to set the family up for the day. So they actually get a maximum rest of 12 hours. Everybody knows this - and nobody does anything about it. The current case [of alleged abuse] has drawn international attention.
Maybe something will be done, but I doubt it, since the government has wilfully ignored what has been described as modern-day slavery in Hong Kong.
Kingsley Smith, Garut, West Java, Indonesia
Helpers' role in city is so important
There appears to have been a failure to protect Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, even though there are supposed to be comprehensive safeguards in place.
Domestic maids perform duties for a family they have never met until they arrive here.
They have to adapt to this way of life and this city with no psychological support.
Agencies have a duty to assist the maids they have placed with households. People found guilty of abusing helpers should face custodial sentences.
I am sure some readers will look at the picture of this pretty young woman before she was hurt and realise she is around the same age as their daughter.
Action was not taken here until the incident was reported in the international press.
The government ought to review policies so maids can get help if they are in genuine need and have regulations in force to ensure they are not cheated by unscrupulous agencies.
Agencies should be made to keep in regular contact with the helpers and have them report in person every few weeks.
There should also be some office within a government department which can offer maids who are struggling with their new and often lonely environment, with some psychological support.
Hong Kong has enjoyed economic prosperity and there are many well-off families here. However, many of these families rely on foreign helpers to maintain their households.
They can go to work knowing their home is in good hands, thanks to a hard-working and trustworthy helper. For this work, the maids receive just over HK$4,000 a month. They should be treated with respect as a member of the family.
Heron Yan, Kwun Tong
Moral lessons can aid good behaviour
You read of incidents in Hong Kong of mainland visitors misbehaving, such as spitting everywhere, talking loudly on trains and buses and jumping queues. This makes Hongkongers angry.
One of the reasons for this behaviour is that during the Cultural Revolution many books which espoused traditional moral values like patience, courtesy and conscience were destroyed by the Red Guards. Therefore, we have a generation of Chinese who have little knowledge of these virtues.
The education authorities on the mainland could do more to tackle the problem. On a recent visit there I saw a slogan, "Building a civilised China". This is a good first step, but moral and civic education should be included in the school curriculum of China to teach children to behave properly in public.
Chan Chung-hin, Kwun Tong