A 'win-win' deal can be a losing proposition - especially over lunch The 'win-win situation' is one of the most abused cliches in business. Lai See, moreover, is of the opinion that business is like chess - the only possible outcomes are win, lose or draw. So it is something of a relief to find that at least one analyst is willing to counter the conventional wisdom concerning PCCW's possible tie-up with China Netcom. Most commentators are generally positive about the deal's prospects, even when divided over its likely structure (possibilities range from a small cross-border joint venture to Netcom taking over PCCW's Hong Kong operations). Lai See is among the sceptics who think a joint venture more likely than a full-fledged takeover. The latter could provide PCCW chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai with an exit route from the company. While raising her rating for PCCW last week, ABN Amro analyst Helen Zhu nevertheless disputed the market's perceptions that there won't be any losers. Ms Zhu wrote: 'The bottom line: PCCW shareholders only win if Netcom loses. PCCW shareholders will get a good deal only if Netcom is willing to overpay. As we believe the risks involved with overpaying outweigh the potential benefits for Netcom, we are sceptical that a deal would be a windfall for PCCW.' Ms Zhu's comments reminded Lai See of a recent lunch hosted by a senior Netcom executive with five local journalists. Why, he wanted to know, hasn't the Hong Kong media been more positive about the deal? Answers included a declining business that returns more to banks than shareholders as rivals lure away PCCW customers with giveaways. The Netcom executive appeared not to enjoy his lunch. turning the tables Are you looking for a secluded place to wine and dine the one you love? You could do worse than the Hong Kong government-owned La Meridien Hotel at Cyberport. A friend of Lai See's recently had a weekend dinner at the new hotel, and was surprised to find only a handful of tables occupied. We understand that Le Meridien hired the chief chef from Tin Shan Restaurant, formerly located in the Cheung Kong Center. It is also reputed to be a favourite spot of Richard Li. Do as the rich do is Lai See's motto, especially when it is the government who gets stuck with the bill. Or is that the taxpayer? yes, minister, it's not your flat Could it be that Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Frederick Ma Si-hang, with annual income of more than $3 million, forgot to disclose that he also nets $7,000 a month from renting out a 518 square-foot flat in Chi Fu Garden? That was the question crossing the minds of many reporters, including Lai See's, when a property agency yesterday boasted it had facilitated the modest rental deal between 'a senior government official surnamed Ma' and a Korean banker. Century 21 Hong Kong twice assured Lai See that the official in question was in fact Mr Ma. Lai See reached Mr Ma with an on-record denial. 'I have never been to Chi Fu Garden,' Mr Ma said. Then it emerged that the flat owner is actually a Ma Shi-hang. Governance skills need sharing Former Securities and Futures Commission chairman Anthony Neoh knows a thing or two about disclosure. So when a substantial shareholder recently sold shares in Global Digital Creations Holdings, which is more than 50 per cent held by Mr Neoh and his brother Raymond, it promptly disclosed that the seller in question was, in fact, the firm's chief technology officer. Good corporate governance that. Mr Neoh's other brother, Christopher, who does not live in Hong Kong and has no management role in the company, sold even more shares on the same day as the CTO but took a day longer to disclose. russians get their just deserts One of Lai See's colleagues, discussing the crisis at Russian oil firm Yukos with a Polish friend, said if the Russian government's aim was to scare away foreign investment then it was doing a pretty good job. 'What's new?' said my colleague's friend. 'If the Russians took over the Sahara nothing would happen for 10 years - and then they would run out of sand.'