Letters to the Editor, October 19, 2015

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 October, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 October, 2015, 12:01am

MPF offset arrangements should be axed

The Business and Professionals Federation (BPF) agrees with the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions that the offset arrangements in the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) are wrong and should be eliminated.

However, this should be done as part of a general review of retirement income policy in Hong Kong. In the recent BPF report on the way forward for retirement protection in Hong Kong, we also recommended the elimination of offsets as part of a general programme to improve the MPF.

On the specific suggestions from the Federation of Trade Unions, our first comment is that unsurprisingly, its recommendations only consider approaches that cost the employers more and benefit employees. Any solution to this issue will likely need at least some of the cost to be borne by employees through reduced severance or long-term payments.

There is also a third possible source of funds - the government. It will be a direct beneficiary of eliminating offsets because these same employees will be much less dependent on government support after retirement.

The BPF proposes that a phased approach to reducing offsets should be adopted, not unlike the Federation of Trade Union's proposals, but that this should be accompanied by a reduction of severance and long-service payments. These reductions should be kept modest by an infusion of government funds.

The government would pay into the MPF part of the money currently withdrawn by employers to cover severance and long service payments. This is a bit untidy but is more likely to gain acceptance than an approach that involves all the costs borne by one side.

We would be happy to work with all parties on some specific recommendations along these lines.

Victor Apps, chairman, study group on retirement protection, Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong 

Clarifying approval times for new drugs

I refer to the report "Patients forced to wait up to 24 months for new drugs to be approved in Hong Kong, as experts call for simpler system" (August 31), and your editorial ("Time to review drug approvals", September 7).

You say that "it takes 18 to 24 months… to approve a new drug" in Hong Kong. Regarding the new drugs' application process and registration requirements, applicants are required to provide the documents, including master formula, specifications, certificates and methods of analysis, manufacturer's licence, Good Manufacturing Practices certificate, evidence of registration, package insert, sales pack, stability test data, clinical study data, and evidence of registration issued by two reference health authorities, to support the safety, quality and efficacy of the new drugs.

When the applicants satisfy the above requirements, the applications will be considered by the Pharmacy and Poisons (Registration of Pharmaceutical Products and Substances: Certification of Clinical Trial/Medicinal Test) Committee for registration, and the Poisons Committee for recommended sales control (for example, prescription requirements or not).

The recommendations of these two committees will be considered by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board. Upon the endorsement of the board, the new drugs will be published in the gazette for registration in Hong Kong.

According to our records, between January 1, 2013, and May 31, 2015, the processing time for registration of new drugs took about four to 12 months, which is shorter than the 18 to 24 months you claimed.

In addition, the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance was amended with effect from February 6 to expedite the legislative process of registration of new drugs, of which the legislative amendments related to new drugs have been processed via a negative vetting procedure.

On the other hand, there is a mechanism set up under the ordinance for a registered medical practitioner to use an unregistered pharmaceutical product for the purpose of treatment of a particular patient.

However, the doctor is required to report adverse drug reactions, if any, to the board as a result of using the product in his patient.

The board will continue to liaise with the pharmaceutical trade, and will work closely with the stakeholder to achieve timely registration of new drugs in Hong Kong.

Maggie Chow, secretary, Pharmacy and Poisons Board 

Provide more shelters for street sleepers

Homelessness remains a serious problem and street sleepers are a common sight in urban areas.

The government needs to review the arrangements that exist for providing them with shelters, so that they have somewhere to sleep at night.

If there are not enough beds to meet the needs of the homeless, then this problem has to be dealt with.

Some of these homeless people must have children. Why are these children not helping out? They should accept their responsibilities.

Kobe Yip, Ma On Shan

Taxis really need some competition

I agree with correspondents who argue that the taxi industry in Hong Kong needs some competition and that this can help raise standards.

The quality of service provided by taxis in Hong Kong has declined over the years, but fares keep going up. With the arrival of car-hailing apps like Uber, taxi operators will have to provide a better service.

A feature allowing customers to leave their comments on the service provided by a driver is one way of ensuring a higher quality of service will be provided.

Competition is important. It exists in other sectors in Hong Kong, and many citizens face a competitive environment every day in the workplace. The taxi sector and its customers will benefit from competition.

Louisa Sin, Tseung Kwan O 

Reclamation would not be the answer

I agree with correspondents who say that reclamation is not a good way for Hong Kong to get more land for housing.

Reclamation projects harm the environment.

I think our serious housing problem is caused by inappropriate land use, rather than there being insufficient land.

The government must see the provision of more public housing as being more important than having private flats coming on line.

Carson Leung Hon-yiu, Tai Po

Extended bag levy has been a real success

The plastic bag levy which was expanded on April 1 to cover all retailers in Hong Kong has brought many benefits.

It carries with it an economic incentive leading to people using fewer of these bags and this has helped the environment.

Demand for them has dropped and people are more willing to use environmentally friendly bags in order to save paying the 50-cent levy charged for each plastic bag.

It means that fewer of these bags are being dumped in our landfills and this has reduced the burden they face as they near capacity.

If things had continued unchanged and the government had failed to try and tackle this problem, the landfills would have reached capacity sooner than they will.

Plastic bags are more harmful in landfills than some other waste which will naturally break up, as most of these bags are not biodegradable.

I believe that is why the government has initially focused on a type of waste that can be so harmful to the environment.

Some critics of the levy argued that it would hurt the underprivileged as it would be one extra charge that they faced.

I think subsidies should be available. Also, the government could use some of the revenue it gets from the levy to purchase environmentally friendly bags, which could be distributed to poor families.

These bags could also carry logos and slogans encouraging people to use fewer plastic bags.

We should all accept our responsibility to try and protect the environment. We should make the effort to change the status quo and aim for sustainable development in our homes.

Nadia Lam Wun-hei, Yau Yat Chuen 

Blame local retailers, not mainlanders

In the early 1980s, my wife and I frequently travelled by train on a Sunday evening from Sheung Shui to Hung Hom.

We often had difficulty boarding a train because the entrances to carriages would be blocked by Hongkongers with large parcels of goods they had purchased over the border.

These people were applauded for their business acumen in taking advantage of the favourable exchange rate between the Hong Kong dollar and the yuan.

Now that the exchange rate has changed, mainlanders are vilified as evil parallel traders causing locals to suffer shortages.

If shortages occur, is this not the result of poor planning by Hong Kong business people, who are prone to claim that they are out of stock of such varied products as plastic folders, staple breakfast cereals and mobile phones?

Colin Campbell, Mid-Levels