WHEN Hongkong Telecommunications announced a profit of $6.43 billion for 1992 last month, it brought the pro-competition lobby out in force. Attention is now being turned to another giant utilities company, Towngas. Legislative Councillor Fred Li Wah-ming, who tabled an unsuccessful motion in February calling for a fair trading policy and commission to be established, intends to address the issue of Towngas' monopoly - for the supply of fuel to public housing estates - in the chamber at the end of the month. Monopoly-bashing is on the rise in the territory. Governor Chris Patten stated in his policy speech last year that the community was unwilling to accept unfair and discriminatory business practices. As a result, Mr Patten charged his newly formed Business Council with the formulation of a comprehensive policy on competition for Hongkong. It has now been eight months since the council was formed, but its progress is confidential. ''All the Business Council has done so far is give $800,000 to the Consumer Council to conduct a study on competition,'' said Mr Li. ''We should not rely on the Governor's Business Council to pursue this matter.'' Fellow legislator Christine Loh said the council's deliberations were not transparent: ''We are keen to hear the views of our leading businessmen.'' The Consumer Council study is looking into five areas identified as possibly anti-competitive. They are supermarkets, broadcasting, supply of energy, financial services and telecommunications. Results are not expected until the end of September. The Government is already addressing the issue of competition in some of these areas. Hongkong Telecom, which has a monopoly on international calls until the year 2006, has agreed to reduce its rates. It is set to lose its monopoly on local calls in 1995. Towngas, part of Hongkong and China Gas Company, has a virtual monopoly on gas supplies for government housing estates. The company, in agreement with the Housing Authority, supplies all domestic premises with its fuel wherever available. This totally shuts out all other fuel suppliers from thousands of potential customers, and has been agreed without a scheme of control. LPG suppliers have approached Mr Li and asked him to bring up the issue in the Legislative Council. However, criticism is often levelled at other fuel companies for acting in an anti-competitive manner. In terms of competition, Hongkong is a mixed bag, according to Mr Andrew Freris, senior economist with Salomon Brothers Hongkong. ''By no means is it the capitalist's paradise that everyone describes,'' he said. Mr Fresis said the Consumer Council study was merely investigating five areas of anti-competitiveness, when there are many more to look into. One area which the Government is not willing to address is the monopoly on retail banking. The banking cartel, said Mr Freris, ensured that people received an uncompetitive rate of interest on deposits. ''They get the rotten end of a rotten deal,'' he said, describing the situation as a state-sponsored cartel on retail deposits. ''If this policy [of interest rates being fixed by the Association of Banks] took place in the US, it would be against the law,'' said Legco member Mr Li. ''Banking gives me a lot of concern,'' he added. Mr Freris believed that a lot could be done in the area of public housing to increase competition and, therefore, provide greater choice to the consumer. ''Land is a colonial relic,'' he said. ''Public housing could be privatised.'' Ms Loh believed the Government could be doing more to address the issue of competition. She suggested the Government needed an ad-hoc committee to re-examine markets where competition was unable to flourish. In February, when Ms Loh addressed Legco during its fair trading policy debate, she said the ad-hoc suggestion would be compatible with the Government's traditional policy of ''minimum interference, maximum support'' in the private sector. But there are two clear areas of competition and fair trade in the territory: state-sponsored monopolies, such as utilities licences, and private sector ones. The fact that the Consumer Council is looking into the supermarket business, for example, indicates that there is concern over the market dominance of Wellcome and Park 'N' Shop. However, legislators and economists have repeatedly warned of the dangers of interfering in the private sector, to the extent that a company is viewed as monopolistic simply because it has a large market share. What Mr Li attempted to draw attention to in his motion at the beginning of the year was to address the issues of preventing companies from gaining unfair market shares. Mr Freris agreed that progress could be made in this direction. ''Far more could be done to ensure transparency of information,'' he said. In respect of the large company versus the small newcomer, Hongkong's airline industry has been a constant source of complaint from the underdog. Dragonair failed to take on the relative might of Cathay Pacific Airways, and was eventually taken over. Before that happened, however, Dragonair had complained that the market was an unfair one. MR STANLEY Ho's freight carrier, Air Hongkong, has had a similar problem, but where does competition stop implying ''doing better than our competitors'' and start meaning ''welcoming our competitors to take a chunk of our market share''? Hongkong Telecom's monopoly on international and local calls has been often criticised. But the company's licence lasts until 2006 and the Government is unlikely to review that date, according to analysts. For the time being, the company is already facing competition in the local cellular phone and retail equipment markets. When the local call monopoly ends in 1995, Telecom will be going head to head with other providers. And that situation, according to Telecom finance director Mr John Tonroe, is being viewed as a challenge. ''We feel prepared to meet competition,'' he said. But is the Government? Ms Loh was on the losing end of the Government's tendering decision for the territory's ninth container terminal, as the project manager of United Terminals Consortium. The Government awarded the contract to two out of the three contenders for the project, citing competition as one reason for that decision. But competition is a point of contention at Kwai Chung, as existing large operators believe they can offer a better service without newcomers. The same sentiment exists over cargo handling at the new airport at Chek Lap Kok. Hongkong Air Cargo Terminals has been arguing that it is the most efficient handler in the world because it holds a total monopoly at Kai Tak. Different situations warrant different solutions, but the Government is looking for a single policy. Mr Li said the Government's approach to competition had to change, at least because of what he believed to be a conflict of interest within the Governor's Business Council, which remains charged with deciding how Hongkong should handle competition. Many of the members are executives of the very companies which either enjoy government-granted monopolies, or are accused of anti-competitive practices in the marketplace. ''It is ironic. How can the members of the council build up their credibility in the eyes of the public?'' Mr Li said.