Letters to the Editor, February 10, 2014
Make owners of empty flats pay high rates
I refer to the report ("Empty homes scandal on UK billionaires' row", February 3) where luxury properties have been purchased by overseas interests as an investment rather than a home and withheld from the London housing market.
Most of these properties are registered to firms in tax havens. A campaign group says that "the high values are being used as an extreme investment vehicle'" and " London's shortage of homes is so great that this feels immoral and dysfunctional".
London Mayor Boris Johnson agrees and has called for owners to either live in these homes or rent them out. He and local councils intend to raise tax rates on homes that have been left empty for two years.
This report could well be written about Hong Kong. Anyone viewing recent upmarket residential blocks in Hong Kong generally, and West Kowloon particularly, will notice the sparse night-time lighting, indicating a lack of residency. It is disgraceful that the Urban Renewal Authority is also fuelling this. Its most recent project in Wan Chai, named "The Avenue", has many tiny flats with minimal kitchen facilities.
When one remarks to the sales agents swarming over the Southorn area that these flats are not suitable as a home, they openly state that it's OK, because "it's for investment". When Hong Kong is so short of proper homes for the less well-off, our URA is being "immoral and dysfunctional".
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah should also take a leaf out of Boris Johnson's book and increase rates on properties that are withheld from the housing market.
I. M. Wright, Happy Valley
Much more wood could be recycled
I support the Peach Blossom Tree Recycling Campaign, jointly organised by the Environmental Protection Department and the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Association.
From the statistics I have seen, wood has the lowest recycling rate for all recyclable material and much of it ends up in our landfills. Firms could put waste bound for landfills in one lorry and the wood in another. Instead they dump it all into one lorry bound for the landfill.
The government should set up a fund to encourage more companies to recycle wood and try and raise awareness of the importance of recycling.
Rowina Lo, Kowloon Tong
Incinerator seems sound option for HK
Incineration is a very efficient method of disposing of solid waste, compared to landfills.
Although it is costly, an incineration plant does not take up a lot of what is valuable space in Hong Kong.
Although there is opposition from a small portion of residents, it should be considered suitable for this densely populated city with so much solid waste.
The term zero waste is popular in Singapore and the government is trying to tackle its waste problem head-on. I do not know if such a goal with regard to solid waste can be achieved in that city, but we should look closely at the policies the country is adopting.
Hong Kong has three landfills, but has only a proposal for a large incinerator. Singapore has four incineration plants and one landfill (Pulau Semakau). The landfill is located on an outlying island. Could Hong Kong follow suit and build landfills on some outlying islands?
We can also learn from the solid waste management policies of countries such as Germany, Korea and Japan, which all have large populations and limited space. Germany led the way in the EU with regard to recycling.
Brazil may not sound like a country from which we could learn much in this field, but years ago I saw a documentary about the authorities in the city of Sao Paulo who developed a method by which plastic could be stripped from aluminium/plastic cans for recycling. Not only did it work, but it had proved to be profitable.
I am not saying such a method could be adopted here. But if we could establish a recycling sector that was profitable, then businesses and authorities in neighbouring mainland cities and provinces might take an interest. They have the space that would enable us to expand that sector.
I am sure the Environment Bureau is looking closely at the policies being adopted by different countries in an attempt to reduce volumes of waste.
Edmund Chen, Quarry Bay
Wartime site covered with vegetation
The site of the second world war gun emplacements on Mount Davis Path have deteriorated so dramatically over the past two years that it may well not be even visible in another two years.
The giant roots of a tree have ripped up much of the concrete and the area is covered in chunks of rubble and vegetation.
Right next to it is a well-kept sitting-out area with new seating and fences, so government workers have certainly been maintaining a presence in the area.
Another sitting-out area lower down the road has a display in Chinese, English and Braille showing the location of its arbour and benches.
By contrast, there is not even the tiniest recognition near the gun emplacements of the part that they played in the history of Hong Kong, or any idea of what the area would have looked like when they were playing that role.
How ironic that Solomon Bard, who did so much to further the study of Hong Kong's heritage and was the first executive director of the Antiquities and Monuments Office, should have also fought on Mount Davis.
Jo McBride, Pok Fu Lam
Ancient kiln put in what resembles cage
The Antiquities and Monuments Office is to be commended for the work it undertakes to protect Hong Kong's heritage, sometimes in the face of indifference.
However, there does, in the instance of the Fu Tei Wan Lime Kiln of Chek Lap Kok (relocated to Tung Chung), appear to have been a somewhat overzealous approach (which I appreciate took place in 1991).
The resulting enclosure appears more appropriate for the containment of large, wild and aggressive animals than part of a lime kiln.
Perhaps consideration could be given for a more appropriate way to display this artefact that might arouse more interest from passers-by.
Tony Price, Tung Chung
Tight controls can make factories safer
Factory accidents are common on the mainland and most are due to poor workplace safety standards.
I believe there is more the government could do to lower the accident rate. The working environment of many factories is poor.
Some may even lack adequate emergency exits which would enable workers to evacuate a building as quickly as possible. This leads to more needless casualties.
The monitoring system for these plants is inadequate and the central government must ensure that it is stricter. But this is difficult to achieve nationwide when in some situations there is collusion between companies and government officials. Because of this safety standards remain at a low level.
These accidents do not just result in loss of life, but they damage the image of the country and can put off potential investors.
Beijing should recognise this poses a problem, because a number of Asian countries have developed their manufacturing sector and investors can now opt for one of them. This can make China less competitive and hurt its economy.
The government needs to establish an organisation which is responsible for a much tighter monitoring process. Its officials will be able to make arranged or random visits to factory premises.
Vicky Lui, Cheung Sha Wan
Singapore not claiming superiority
In his column, Jake van der Kamp pointed to Singapore's lower ratio of personal consumption to gross domestic product compared to Hong Kong, and concluded that Singapore's higher per capita GDP masked lower domestic well-being ("Singaporeans not as wealthy as GDP figures suggest", February 4).
Singapore does not claim its economic policies are superior to Hong Kong's.
The two cities face similar challenges of staying competitive in an evolving global economy, and in Singapore's case without a large national hinterland.
Singapore's median income levels are higher than in Hong Kong - measured either at market exchange rates or purchasing power parity rates. This has reflected the faster growth of real median incomes in Singapore in the last half decade.
Household savings rates in Singapore are also higher than in Hong Kong. Consequently, the median household in Singapore consumes a very similar amount of goods and services as in Hong Kong, on a PPP-adjusted basis.
Singapore will continue in its efforts to meet the aspirations of its people, including the future needs of an older society.
Jacky Foo, consul general of Singapore in Hong Kong