Letters to the Editor, January 17, 2017

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 4:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 4:51pm

HK can learn from Obama’s farewell speech

As our chief executive election season gets underway, President Barack Obama’s farewell address last week perhaps ­offered poignant reminders for us as we think about Hong Kong’s political and ­socio-economic future.

Obama delivered a firm warning about the threats to ­democracy as well as a deep-seated hope in citizens to guard against those threats.

He specified three key threats to democracy today – economic disparities, socio-racial divisions and increasing political partisanship.

On the last point, Obama drew on the wisdom of presidential predecessor George Washington, ­expounding that self-interested political and ideological factions without a common baseline of facts and openness to listen often make compromise impossible.

In a similar vein, in the past few years, Hong Kong has faced increasing political polarisation, to the extent that any public ­discourse often gets taken to corrosive extremes, where the narrative has become one of “either with us or against us” rather than one of “finding ­common ground”.

The irony is that many think greater polarisation is the only way to ­protect our freedom and fight for democracy, yet the plain truth is that only by having the openness to re-engage in reasoned public discourse can we find the conciliatory lines to find solutions.

As we enter another election season, our greatest hope and need is for moderation and openness; and to place our faith and support in a leader who can best listen and conciliate the ­diverse sets of voices in our city.

More importantly, the journey ahead is not just one for our political leaders and government, but one in which we all have a part to play. Because maintaining this hope has to start with us. As we welcome in 2017, let us challenge ourselves to have that bigger heart of openness and reason whenever we engage in discourse and to have that faith to hold on to the values we hold dear.

As Obama said: “It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy… because we all share ... the most important office in a democracy: citizen”. May we be the hope and change that we want to see in 2017.

Alexander Chan, Beijing

Lam must not emulate later era Thatcher

Thanks to her handling of the Palace Museum controversy, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been compared in your pages to late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady.

But there is a world of difference between the Thatcher of the miners’ strike and the Falklands War (far more demanding events politically and socially than the back-door stitch-up of a deal for a museum), and the Thatcher of the out-of-touch manoeuvrings on the poll tax which got her thrown out of ­office by the parliamentary ­Conservative Party.

To throw aside 10 years of work and advice, and ignore due processes set out in the West Kowloon Cultural District Ordinance, is to prefer the Thatcher of the poll tax debacle to the Iron Lady of the Falklands War, in which due process was ­meticulously followed.

Yet Thatcher was a real politician, whose steel was honed in the arena of direct, public responsibility for many tough decisions. No Hong Kong civil servant should let newspaper commentators lead them into hubristic illusions about their right and capacity to override the community’s interests.

Beware, Mrs Lam, whose words you choose to hear. Go into office as the second ­Thatcher – the one who knew she was right, believed she had a God-given right to make all decisions, and ignored public opinion in the name of decisiveness – and you will have destroyed your chances of success as chief executive from the start.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels

Students get to university with wrong ideas

An increasing number of ­students in Hong Kong feel stressed out by their studies, ­facing pressure in the classroom and after school. Some of them cannot deal with the pressure and take their own lives.

Because of the stress they feel at school, when they get that ­coveted university place, they see that as the achievement of their goals and lose the passion to continue their studies. They think they have “made it” by ­becoming undergraduates, ­instead of ­seeing university as the next stage of their education.

This attitude is caused by the long hours many of them had to put in during the school day, and afterwards with tutorial classes and a lot of homework.

They have to prepare for both mock and real exams. And some children may be very young when they are forced to start tutorial classes – not just six or seven, but as young as two or three.

Their parents may have good intentions, and think they are doing what is best for them, but this is not good for the mental health of children.

Parents have to accept that the right balance must be found between studying and relaxing, and they must pass this on to their children so they are not under so much stress.

Kitty Chung Hoi-ching, Yau Yat Chuen

Transparency on air pollution is what matters

I refer to Wang Xiangwei’s ­column (“Beijing needs to ­declare war on smog and learn from other countries’ efforts”, January 14). I agree that China should really face reality and do more to curb air pollution on the mainland. The central government has introduced some measures and deserves praise for that, but there are polluters who go unpunished, despite regulations, due to corruption and irresponsible local officials who fail to take action.

It is difficult to deal with corruption and collusion in China, because they have been present for such a long time.

When it comes to enforcement of regulations aimed at curbing pollution, the central government cannot be seen as being solely responsible. The involvement of the public is also important. Citizens should be allowed to speak out and expose corruption and polluters. However, the government continues to block ­negative comments.

If people are encouraged to monitor the situation where they live and report polluters who break regulations, this will ensure that efforts at enforcement are more effective. Rather than being regarded as potential enemies, citizens should be seen as allies and cooperation should be encouraged.

The government must ­enhance transparency by ­providing more information on pollution to the public. It will enjoy greater support from citizens if it is shown to be making a real ­effort to improve air quality. And this will establish trust ­between the administration and citizens, which can lead to a more ­harmonious society.

Crystal Chu Yung-kuen, Kwai Chung

Rent controls can make flats affordable

As a secondary school student, I worry about my future because the housing problem in Hong Kong is serious and prices show no signs of dropping.

Many citizens cannot even ­afford to rent a decent flat and have to live in subdivided units.

I am concerned that I will not have enough to pay the rent for a flat after I graduate.

Landlords keep increasing rents and as a result the quality of life of many people ­deteriorates.

The government should ­impose some rent controls and other measures to cool the ­property market and slow down the rise in prices.

It must build more public housing where people can pay affordable rents.

It must recognise that it has a responsibility to help the middle class and people on low ­incomes.

Lum Chi-lok, Tseung Kwan O