We don't have to ditch our heritage to be a modern, vibrant city

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 4:07am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 4:07am

I refer to Peter Kammerer's column ("Hong Kong must give up the ghost of its faded past", January 21) where he says "Old-fashioned thinking is holding us back".

Holding us back from what, from becoming another clone mainland metropolis, with gridlock and completely unbreathable air? From becoming an unlivable, gigantic gambling brothel, paving over wetlands to create a pseudo Las Vegas?

We have one of the most vibrant economies on the planet, budget surpluses, full employment, an international city which a friend once called "New York City on speed".

Kammerer criticises the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club for "clinging onto its colonial past". I don't speak for the club, but Article 149 of the Basic Law sets out a right to maintain international sporting and cultural ties. It's the members' choice whether to maintain those ties.

He implies that an internationally recognised club, contributing immeasurably to the development of sailing and rowing in the region, and fostering global ties with similar clubs, has "held us back"? "Royal" is good international PR both for the club and for Asia's world city.

Calling our civil service "overstaffed and bloated with fiefdoms that do not co-operate" is also off the mark. Certainly there are competing goals and priorities but administrative means are in place to resolve these conflicts and they largely work. Eventually the buck (mostly) stops at Tamar. In many overseas jurisdictions no one has any idea who has the buck, nor even how many there are.

As to being bloated, let's look overseas again - take Canada with four levels of government, conflicting and overlapping responsibilities, vague, non-transparent administrative and political regimes, often wasting resources suing each other and tying up the courts for lawyers' benefit. The result - outrageous tax levels, secretive and ineffective decision-making and by some estimates over half the workforce employed one way or another on the taxpayer's dime.

I've moved back here after seven years tearing my hair out at the vagaries, conflicts and corruption in Canada, not to mention the weather and - oh - did I mention taxes?

Kammerer raises valid points - special-interest cartels indeed and certainly the small-house policy must go. However, the thesis that we are heading in the wrong direction by maintaining our multicultural, international outlook and some aspects of our colonial heritage is absurd. As a very rich friend once said to me: "No one ever made any money by shorting Hong Kong".

Ian Dubin, Central