Letters to the editor, April 25, 2016

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 4:56pm

Wetlands are critical for our biodiversity

According to the most recent findings by the Waterbird Monitoring Programme, wetland waterbird counts at Hong Kong’s Mai Po reserves have declined since 2007. The count also showed a decrease in diversity, with 66 species sighted in the winter of 2014-15, compared with 69 the previous winter.

Unauthorised activities at the wetlands such as waste disposal in the form of dumping and filling in the waters is the cause of the decline in waterbirds (“Illegal development at Hong Kong wetlands threatens bird life, activists say”, March 29).

It’s critical we recognise the problem because the wetlands will not be the same without waterbirds. Not only will there be no birdwatching but the withdrawal of these waterbirds will also have an impact on the local water. People, birds and the majority of Hong Kong’s wildlife depend on this water.

I had the chance to experience the importance of wetlands when I was studying geography at junior college in California. I lived near the Ballona Wetlands, which faced the same conservation issues as Hong Kong. Wetlands are important; they help reduce the impact from flooding, maintain good water quality, recharge groundwater, store carbon, stabilise the local climate and control pests. Yet the rapid economic and population growth of Hong Kong over the last few decades has created numerous threats to conservation and coastal bio­diversity.

Hong Kong needs a forceful policy response to illegal development and dumping. Currently, offenders face a fine and prison time – but are these laws effective? Such cases continue to pop up in the media. Private landowners at the wetlands should be made responsible for restoring polluted areas on their property to their original state, in addition to fines and prison ­sentences.

Hong Kong would benefit from creating a committee to strengthen the protection and management of wetland sites and revise regulations to enhance enforcement capabilities. These policy suggestions can be championed with the help of active conservation groups like the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, as well as government departments such as the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

We can even have our say on Hong Kong’s first biodiversity strategy and action plan, which in turn can put more pressure on officials to make the necessary policy changes, so we, our children and grandchildren can enjoy Hong Kong’s beautiful birds and clean wetlands.

Shannon Mason, Pheonix, Arizona, US

Zero tolerance for lax fire safety checks

I refer to the report, “Annual inspection failure could have led to delays and blunders in putting out fire in Wan Chai” (April 21). Questions were raised over whether the owners of Kai Ming building, where the fire broke out, had carried out an annual check of the building’s firefighting equipment, as they were supposed to.

I am concerned that such neglect in Hong Kong’s many old buildings could cause loss of life and property. Though the costs of maintenance may be hefty, and the annual checks a hassle, owners have a duty to protect the safety of residents.

The government must show zero tolerance on this issue. It should increase the fine or even imprison those owners who fail to perform the required safety checks. Hong Kong people do not want to see any tragedy happen because of the owners’ ­negligence.

Fung Sze Man, Ngau Chi Wan

Referendums give voice to public concern

Although there is much truth to Alex Lo’s column, I would like to take exception to the claim that the value of referendums is next to nil (“Referendums little more than opinion polls”, April 21).

Polling the people of Hong Kong about their future would serve to enable citizens to voice their opinions in a loud and clear way, an opportunity that is often denied them.

In Taiwan where I live, debate over a proposed referendum gave citizens the chance to voice their concerns about the building of a nuclear power plant. And where I come from, in the state of California, citizens passed a referendum opposing the continued building of nuclear weapons.

The referendum process was passed in many US states not to circumvent the political process but to give citizens an opportunity to voice concerns dear to their hearts. Hong Kong can only be better served by having such a vote.

Dave Hall, Taoyuan, Taiwan

Singapore needs a healthy democracy

In March of last year, I attended the funeral of Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. At his funeral, I witnessed many Singaporeans who waited long hours to pay their respects to their former leader, with some shedding tears. Lee was viewed as a smart, capable, tough leader who played a key role in raising Singapore to be a prosperous and stable country.

Singaporeans and Singapore’s current leaders need to learn from the past. History has shown that strong and effective leaders who made their countries great have been followed by less capable leaders who ruined their countries. King Louis XIV made France the dominant power in Europe, but his successor and great-grandson, Louis XV, suffered a series of humiliating defeats by the British and Prussians. Subsequently, Louis XVI lost his throne and his head in the French revolution.

Under Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century, China was a prosperous empire much admired by Europeans, but his grandson Emperor Daoguang lost the First Opium War to Britain, and Qianlong’s great-grandson Emperor Xianfeng lost the Second Opium War to France and Britain, resulting in humiliating concessions by China to foreign powers.

To avoid repeating this historical pattern of decline, Singapore must ensure a healthy democracy, because a strongly functioning democracy can keep the ruling party on its toes and, if the ruling party becomes ineffectual, produce an opposition politician as tough,capable and smart as Lee to take over the country.

Toh Han Shih, Happy Valley

More to life than economic prosperity

In his letter, Akshay Parekh reiterates the argument, well-worn by the pro-Beijing establishment, that Hong Kong should give up its aspirations for democracy and focus on stability and economic prosperity (“Democracy not the cure-all to ensure a better future”, April 21).

He cherry-picks the example of China as a successful authoritarian state and India as an unsuccessful democratic state, in his opinion.

While the comparison is disingenuous in ignoring the many successful democracies and failed dictatorships, it also misses the point completely. Hongkongers striving for democracy have never argued that it will ensure prosperity. Decent living standards are important, but there are other important aspects of a society besides making money.

For example, the freedom to state your opinion without the fear of being fired from your job, assaulted or kidnapped; the security of knowing the rule of law will be enforced fairly and consistently, regardless of one’s position or contacts; and having a government that serves the interests of the majority of citizens rather than a minority elite or rulers from a distant capital.

Unfortunately, these valued aspects are being consistently eroded by Hong Kong’s government, hence the drive for genuine universal suffrage.

No government, whether democratic or authoritarian, can guarantee economic success. But only in a democracy can we achieve the fairness in society that is every bit as important.

Arjan Abeynaike, Yuen Long