What's a runway's social cost?

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs tech analyst Henry King, the firm's Taiwan head of research, took a trip to New York to answer questions from US federal investigators about leaking inside information to hedge funds. After a flurry of news stories in February, nothing more was heard of him.

It was reported that his questioning was part of the numerous investigations that spun out of hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam's trial and conviction in 2009. Apparently King believed it was better to go to New York and answer the feds' questions rather than remain in Taiwan and do it by video. Having answered the questions, he was told that as a witness in a continuing investigation, he couldn't leave the US. So for the past six months, he has been twiddling his thumbs on Goldman's payroll in the US.

That is until recently, when the feds told him they weren't charging him with anything and returned his passport. However, as of last week, there has been a parting of the ways between Goldman and King, though he remains on the company's payroll until December. His departure is unrelated to the Rajaratnam-related investigations in the US, though we gather he did not leave of his own accord.

Although the Airport Authority announced on Wednesday it would look into ways to evaluate the social and environmental impact of the planned third runway, this will do little to allay the suspicions of green groups. They believe the authority does not want to carry out a proper social return on investment study (SROI) out of concern that it could sink the runway project. The authority's initial position was that it would obey the law and pursue the environmental impact assessment process.

After the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel unanimously called on the authority to conduct an SROI study in April, it responded that there was no accepted international methodology for conducting such a study. It was recently supported in this view by the Transport and Housing Bureau in an e-mail to the green groups: "As we have explained before, SROI is an evaluation tool rooted in the charity sector and is commonly used to evaluate the value of community projects competing for government or charity funding. We also understand that there is no commonly adopted methodology or standards for conducting SROI analysis and that no developed country adopts SROI analysis as general requirement for assessing infrastructure project proposals."

Unfortunately there was one very significant SROI study, concluded in April 2010, that ironically concerned plans to build a third runway at London's Heathrow Airport, which can hardly be described as a charity or community funding. The study concluded that the social and economic impact of the airport on Britain would be a loss of £5 billion (HK$62.6 billion), compared with the government's estimates of a £5.5 billion gain. Unsurprisingly, the Hong Kong government and the Airport Authority aren't keen to dwell on this report and particularly its outcome. The authority has been keen to play up the economic benefits, which it claims amount to HK$900 billion. A poll commissioned by WWF and Greenpeace found that 74 per cent of people were dissatisfied with the amount of information the authority had provided on the social and environmental aspect of the project.

We've been fretting about the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkakus by Japan. This is why we read with some interest an account by a reporter with Caixin Online of a recent demonstration outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing. As he was photographing police relaxing in a nearby street, one of them suggested the reporter join the protest. This led to the following exchange: "Can I? Won't I be pulled out?" the reporter inquired. "Since it is me who let you in, who'd dare pull you out!" the policeman responded. "But I haven't applied for permission," the reporter said. "It is OK. The organiser has applied," the policeman said. Then the reporter rather broke the mood with his next question. "Can I shout 'punish corruption'?" The policeman became serious: "No, you can't - only slogans concerned with the Diaoyu Islands are allowed."



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