• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 3:09pm
Public Eye
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 3:11am

Stop talking, start giving


Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.

Enough talk. Just do it. Tycoon Lee Shau-kee of Henderson Land Development has babbled on for months about donating land to build affordable flats for young Hongkongers. Government officials have hesitated for fear the tycoon has self-serving schemes in mind. Such suspicion is warranted. Bill Gates our tycoons are not. Some are known more for their greed than for their giving. Hongkongers know our tycoons love their money too much to part with it like Gates or Warren Buffett. Their fortunes stay within the family. But wouldn't it be nice if they found it in their hearts to expand Lee's free land offer into a no-strings-attached land donation movement? They would erase the city's shame of subdivided flats and caged homes. They can't take their money with them but they could go with a clean conscience.


Hair today, still hair tomorrow

Tseung Kwan O residents so oppose a government proposal to extend the landfill in their district that some shaved off their hair in protest at a Legislative Council meeting. Presumably, the bald-headed protesters dumped all that hair as rubbish. And where did they expect the government to put their rubbish? The Tseung Kwan O landfill maybe? But that would be in their backyard, and they don't like that. We suggest the government dump it outside the front doors of the protesters with a sign that says "Landfill full". Or it could put the hair outside the doors of Legco members who blocked the landfill expansion.


Poll should ask hard questions on democracy

If a poll by the Research Association is to be believed, 54 per cent of respondents oppose Occupy Central for fear it would wreck the city's economy. What does that tell us? That Hongkongers value a stable economy over democracy? If so, it's strike one against the pan-democrats because it fits right into the claim of Chief Executive C.Y. Leung who insists people care more about livelihood issues than democracy. To even the score, the pan-democrats need to do a poll that asks this blunt question: do you care more about democracy or livelihood issues?


Raise your glass to cleaner bureaucracy

Those weekend pictures in the media of a tearful Timothy Tong Hin-ming didn't make Public Eye feel one bit sorry for him. Nor were we moved by the television images of his remorseful bow in Legco. The man deserves no pity. So many details have emerged of his squandering of public money while ICAC boss that people are no longer shocked, just aghast by his obnoxious extravagance. But Hong Kong must thank Tong. He did us a favour. He overdid his extravagance, but he is not alone in his lust for the high life at public expense. It permeates senior levels of our bureaucracy. Settling for Tong's public humiliation would be wasting the opportunity he has given us to cut our senior bureaucrats down to size. It is no exaggeration to say they are more adept at swirling their wine than serving the people. They are servants of the people but behave as if they are the bosses. The senior ones live in upscale homes, have chauffeured cars and education allowances for their children to study abroad, fly first class, and are the world's second best-paid bureaucrats. The reason given is that high pay wards off temptation. Are our senior officials so corruptible that we must buy them off with oversized salaries? It's time we asked if we're getting value for money. Our unaffordable housing, subdivided slum flats, rising poverty and filthy air tell us we are not. We need to clean house. Let's start by checking the wine stocks at every government department.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.mickchug@gmail.com



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This article is now closed to comments

I am not an economist but I question about that Hong Kong 's housing affordability should tie solely with its currency with others as an argument. Leung is now over 6 months in his office, it would be constructive to make some suggestions to its administration for Hong Kong to pull out from the housing quicksand it has been in. Mainland China has adopted Hong Kong's property model and has called for a halt. China is not blaming of its tie with foreign currency for its unaffordable housing. In solving Hong Kong's housing problem that the nothing will work attitude is a highly suspect and warrants no attention.
Livelihood issues and democracy can go together Michael. Sure most people, including myself, would put livelihood issues at the top of our list of priorities, but that does not mean we would exclude democracy from our list of wants. Education, now that's the thing Michael. Something that many of your readers have, but you seem to be unaware of!
Hong Kong government must set a housing policy that making housing affordable. Its importance is no less than assuring rice is affordable. To do so, government must undo all the factors that has had contributed to unaffordable housing and related consequences. Here I will outline a few factors and measures:
1. Stop the right of abode under the family reunion scheme. One third of those living in substandard subdivided flats are newly immigrants. More importantly, Hong Kong is never going to be big enough for everyone to settle in Hong Kong from mainland.
2. Investigate all current public housing residents of their income and wealth. Income that exceeds the limit or in possession of property in Hong Kong must ask to relinquish their flats for the truly qualified.
3. Persuade property developers to use their land bank to build affordable housing. Now.
4. When the above persuasion failed, government should call for an emergency act with power to exercise eminent domain – taking the land bank back from the property developers for public use for affordable housing.
5. Halt all land sell unless it is for affordable housing and until housing crises is over.
In short, CY Leung should plug the causes, check your existing resources and act.
I agree that more measures are needed, but what you propose is mostly problematic, apart perhaps from (2).

And even (2) is hardly going to help. Forcing non-eligible people out of public housing will increase pressures on the private housing market, not lower them. Sure, we could then move some of the people who are currently wait-listed into public housing, and it might therefore partly solve the sub-divided flats issue. But even for that problem: as you noted, many of those living in sub-divided flats are recent immigrants and have no right to public housing anyway.

Next, what is affordable? Few will disagree that current levels are unaffordable, and you won't hear me argue otherwise either. But to have government intervene in the sort of ways you propose until they deem prices are 'affordable' scares me as well. I'd like to see a very clear definition of 'affordable' before going down that road. By most measures, Hong Kong housing hasn't been affordable for two decades or more.... and I wouldn't want to see our housing market turn into a Singapore-style, government-dominated market.

If we want to find the root of the problem: look no further than an undervalued currency and a monetary policy that is way too loose for our own good, not in the last place relative to the mainland. If we are looking for radical measures: unpeg the HKD and take control of the interest rate again, which should be at least be in the 3~5% range given our level of employment etc.
I don’t believe the move of this tycoon is sincerely to help the Hong Kong youngsters buy an affordable flat. There must be something behind this plan. The property prices have currently reached a lunatic level that all developers are responsible for it, including Mr. Lee. A huge amount of money you tycoons have earned and completely monopolized a lot of markets in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has won high praise of the highest prices in property in the world, as a Hongkonger, I have to bow in salute.
The whole Henderson land donation thing is a total ruse.

The government owns all the land in Hong Kong (minus the St John's Cathedral). I has full control over the land supply, and has hundreds if not thousands of vacant plots that could be ready for development whenever they see fit. They could waive premiums and build cheap housing if they wanted.

They definitely don't need the 'donation' of Mr Lee's agricultural land to make this possible. It is like donating a pet goat to the meat factory and asking it to use it to feed the poor. The only benefactors of this are Henderson' Land's PR department and Mr Lee's conscious.


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