Sorry, legislators, you can't have your Link cake and eat it, too

'Legislators have voted to summon two bosses of the Link Management after the company declined to send representatives to discuss how it manages shops and car parks in public housing estates.'

SCMP, May 10

WHAT IS IT about our elected legislators that they are allowed to take their seats only after a doctor has injected a big dose of Novacaine in their skulls?

Listen, fellas, you sold these properties, bundled them up lock, stock and barrel as a real estate investment trust and flogged the works off to private investors. They are no longer government-owned.

Unless you have good reason to think that the new managers broke the law, you have no more right to command their presence for an explanation of their leasing policies than you would if it were Sun Hung Kai Properties and you wanted to know why the Kwok brothers charge what they do for the 40th floor of Central Plaza.

It was your choice. You had the properties but you wanted the money. Thus you sold the properties and you took the money. It's a done deal. If it bothers you now that the new management wants to improve returns to investors by raising rents and getting rid of unnecessary staff, well, you should have thought about that before you sold. It's too late now.

But just listen to the whinges. 'The Link may lay off thousands of cleaners and security staff to cut back on management costs' - Legislator Wong Kwok-hing.

Here is your solution, Mr Wong. Go for a tour of these properties after cleaners have been laid off and if you can demonstrate that the standards of upkeep have so deteriorated as to create a health hazard, then you have government agencies aplenty with which you can lay a complaint.

If you cannot demonstrate it, then you have good evidence of previous overstaffing (how surprising that would be in government-run properties) and we will expect you to compliment the new management on a job well done.

And if so many security personnel are laid off that burglars find these buildings an easy touch, then the tenants will find their theft insurance premiums going up and they will demand compensation for it in lower rents. It won't happen. Property managers are not stupid.

'We need to talk to the Link Management face to face to address this issue, as it is affecting the livelihood of grass-roots people' - Legislator Leung Kwok-hung.

I have a question for you, Long Hair. What makes one person 'grass roots' and another not? If one of your constituents has committed the great evil of buying a few shares of the Link, is he or she no longer 'grass roots'?

I wonder, you see, because a good number of ordinary Hong Kong people did buy into the Link and it certainly helps to improve their livelihood if the new management runs the enterprise more efficiently and makes some money for them.

Or were you perhaps referring only to public housing tenants in your constituency, people to whom we have already given a soft ride but want more and think it an imposition on their rights to contribute to the cost of what they want?

'The Link is charging non-profit-making organisations for community activities. Before then it used to be free' - Legislator Frederick Fung Kin-kee.

And now it's not. Charity is a choice for private companies. We cannot force a private landlord to bear the cost of hosting non-profit groups in its premises. Tell those groups to apply to the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund for the money, Mr Fung.

'The Link is a private company, but it also involves public money. I think it should answer to the public' - Frederick again.

Let's have your definition of public money, Freddy. Do you mean that if I, a member of the public, buy a tube of toothpaste that I am using public money and the shopkeeper is answerable to the public? Tell the people at ParknShop then that I think they charge me too much for toothpaste, will you?

If this, however, is not your definition, then the Link does not involve public money. It did involve public money at one time but then you sold it and that public money went into your hands as cash. You can do with that cash what you want but you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

'The legislators also questioned Mr Cheng's background. He (Link chairman Paul Cheng Ming-fun, one of the two summoned 'bosses') was a senior adviser to Deutsche Bank, which holds a 5 per cent stake in the Link ... '

Heinous crime, to be sure, but I can cite an even greater one. Li Ka-shing is chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings) and he holds even more than 5 per cent of that stock. He ought to step down from Cheung Kong's board immediately as should every member of that board that has ever advised it on anything. It's just not fair. Call in the cops.

But don't call in the doctor just yet. That last dose of Novocaine has clearly still to wear off.