ESF neglecting its obligations in favour of profit
I have no doubt many English Schools Foundation parents will write to these columns, angry at the ESF's endless schemes to take money from them. From my point of view, the ESF's effrontery is shocking, because for the last few years it has not been abiding by the terms of its subvention.
In accepting HK$280 million of public money (and an exemption from profits tax), the ESF has a strict obligation to provide an education for 'English-speaking children who cannot access the local system'.
Yet it offers priority for admission to its primary schools to students of its own kindergarten business, a very large proportion of whom can access the local system.
The ESF says it only offers priority for an interview, not admission, but in reality hardly any child ever fails the interview, so priority for admission is the end result.
Despite a manifest inability to attend a local school, my child was rejected because she did not go to an ESF kindergarten. In offering such priority to nurture its commercial interests, the ESF is abusing the public purse and denying school places to the children that the government determined should have them.
As a taxpayer for more than 20 years, I deplore the ESF's egregious admissions system and resent the manner in which it insists that all its processes are fair and inclusive. It is the complete opposite. The ESF's system is a closed shop, and before it receives another penny of public money, it must be forced to reform this system.
Having complained to the Education Bureau, I have been distinctly underwhelmed by the bureau's casual approach to its duty to oversee the manner in which the ESF handles public money and can only conclude that the two are colluding closely.
With fees, levies and ancillary expenses rising interminably, my guess is that the bureau and the ESF are jointly preparing the ground to forgo the subvention within a few years. I believe that their strategic plan is to generate as much capital as possible in order for the ESF to go completely private - then watch fees really rise.
As for admissions, it seems that the plan also involves the exclusion of European children, who may leave Hong Kong before their education is complete. This is being done in order to admit more local children, who are more likely to provide the ESF with a continuous revenue stream from the age of three to 18.
Thus, for purely commercial reasons, the foundation is excluding the very children it was established to cater for; and for undeclared sociopolitical reasons, the bureau is allowing the ESF to get away with it.
James Walker, Jardine's Lookout
Tap expertise in the community
Each state government minister in Australia has a ministerial advisory committee comprising members of the public with special knowledge or interests (for example, health, ageing, transport), to discuss and make suggestions on topics under consideration.
The committee has a professional secretary who organises the paperwork, brings up matters for discussion and drafts reports for the minister.
Members are only required to attend a specified number of meetings annually. They get token allowances and meals.
The system allows grass-roots and specialist comments to be brought to the attention of the minister without having to pay for professional consultants.
I would suggest that this method be considered by the Hong Kong government.
There are many retired professionals or working people who can give up a limited number of hours for this kind of work.
Jessie Tong, Melbourne, Australia
Sailors bring bars a windfall
Before the likely arrival of the USS Carl Vinson, or any other visiting ship, for that matter ('Request for Osama burial ship visit confirmed', May 6), I would like to clarify a small matter of principle.
It is an unpleasant fact that many Hong Kong bars will 'welcome' these visitors with extraordinary 'entrance fees', which at other times are never applied to other tourists or anybody else.
This well-established practice should not be confused with recognition by many of the efforts of all naval personnel everywhere in 'the war on terror', piracy prevention and humanitarian missions, such as those in Japan and elsewhere.
This message constitutes a metaphoric handshake of welcome, intended to counter the other hand of Hong Kong, which will be outstretched for their hard-earned dollars.
US consulate officials and Hong Kong Tourism Board please take note.
S. Crampton, Tseung Kwan O
Make motorists pay for polluting
The rising levels of air pollution and increased congestion found in most of the world's advanced cities can be attributed directly to the rapidly increasing number of private cars in use.
In order to reverse this decline in the quality of life in urban areas, attempts must be made to encourage people to reduce use of private vehicles and increase use of public transport.
Policies must be implemented to discourage car ownership. In London, the authorities charge motorists driving through central areas of the city. A much higher charge is levied on vehicles causing the most pollution.
The Hong Kong government should consider adopting this 'polluter pays' principle.
The authorities could also consider additional taxes and extra insurance coverage to make car ownership more expensive.
More commuters will use a good public transport infrastructure that has competitive fares and careful synchronisation of different commuting modes, including buses, minibuses, light rail, MTR trains, taxis and ferries.
By reducing car ownership we can more effectively protect the environment.
Vikki Chow, Kwun Tong
Market model won't work here
Bernard Lo highlights the Humanist Association's apparent lack of understanding of economics and thinks that money wasted in our public hospital system could be put to better use ('Low cost of care ridiculous', May 9).
Mr Lo has expressed similar views concerning public housing in these columns. He probably advocates modern economic theory, which holds that a free market equilibrium can be socially efficient. However, a free market does not, and probably cannot, exist in reality.
The 'better use' normally means money into the pockets of the business elite. Hong Kong's alarming wealth gap is an illustration of the problem.
The American public health system is a product of the free market, and I trust that Mr Lo is not holding up this model for us to copy, as it is failing millions of US citizens.
I agree with Tony Henderson of the Humanist Association of Hong Kong ('Proud of public hospital system', May 4) that, despite the many problems, Hong Kong still has a public health system to be proud of.
The association cannot be criticised for not understanding economics, because it is well known that if you put 10 economists in the same room, you end up with 20 opinions.
I. M. Wright, Happy Valley
Use reserves to help needy
A former government adviser has given suggestions on how he believes the government could use its huge fiscal reserves ('Use reserves for housing and health, says Goodstadt', May 5).
I agree with Leo Goodstadt that we should use part of the reserves to deal with these problems.
Many people living below the poverty line in Hong Kong do not have enough money to deal with their housing and health care problems.
At the same time they face rapid increases in the prices of basic commodities.
However, there is only so much the government can do with the money at its disposal, and it must keep some to deal with unforeseen incidents.
We have to accept that the problem of the disparity between rich and poor will not be solved overnight.
The reserves cannot end that disparity, but they can be used to help improve the welfare of the poor in Hong Kong.
Wong Po-huen, Tsuen Wan
We're stuck with nuclear
It is perfectly understandable that green groups such as Friends of the Earth (HK) make the comments that they have against nuclear energy after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan ('HK government should steer away from nuclear energy', May 9).
But, in thus contriving to be politically correct, please produce some concrete calculations to show that, having come this far, it is indeed feasible for mankind to stop using nuclear energy and replace it with safer options.
If it is not feasible, there is no point talking about steering away. And how far away do we have to steer to satisfy these groups?
For the information of Edwin Lau Che-feng, of Friends of the Earth (HK), mankind only chose uranium as fuel for nuclear power generation because the expensive development work had already been done in the process of producing the nuclear bomb.
We could have used thorium (with an availability exceeding uranium by 200 times), in which, according to a European Organisation for Nuclear Research scientist, fission only takes place when it is bombarded by a beam of particles.
As soon as the beam is turned off, nuclear fission stops and ceases to generate heat; hence there is no risk of a meltdown.
Peter Lok, Chai Wan