Letters to the editor, January 7, 2016

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 3:59pm

Obsession with consensus only a symptom

David Dodwell’s analysis (“Hong Kong political ‘consensus’ a recipe for stalemate and procrastination”, January 1) is highly pertinent but nonetheless draws the wrong conclusions – for two main reasons.

First, while he accurately asserts that compromise is the stuff of politics and observes the government’s obsession with “consensus”, in fact our government seeks neither consensus nor compromise. True, if “consensus” means 70 per cent agreement in “consultation”, we will never get beyond the obvious (basic public education, health, safety and so on). But that’s why intelligent public policymakers don’t seek consensus: they seek legitimacy, achievable through true openness to people’s preferences, or genuinely democratic elections.

The insincere search for “consensus” is a symptom, not a cause of ineffective policymaking. The government’s closed-mindedness to outside views and to risk-taking are the obstructions.

Secondly, both consultation and compromise remain necessary, and burying the one mechanism that focuses public opinion in policy debates will scarcely make things better. Even Margaret Thatcher learned it was disastrous – for the country, herself and her party – to cut oneself off from the opinions of one’s fellow citizens.

Mr Dodwell may be right that Leung Chun-ying now operates behind closed doors, and, by implication, that the civil service is spinning wheels in indecision. And closed-mindedness is tied to functional constituencies that obstruct normal democratic processes. So it’s no use relying on “elite” leaders; they are too wound up in self-serving preoccupations to lead meaningfully.

So citizens must take the lead in debate, as Mr Dodwell is doing, and political parties step into the vacuum of leadership. Public policies pursued should aim to empower citizens to the highest levels in education, economic value and capacity to guide their own futures, rather than treating them as despised units of production whose related social costs (education, health, wages, family-building and free spirit) must be minimised.

Given Hong Kong’s high work ethic, we know the glass is half full, with plenty of capacity to grow if we invest in them; it is not half empty, justifying maximum exploitation.

Public spirit and values should be placed on a par with private profit when developing public policy.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels

Blame poor policies for sexism at work

I refer to the article, “‘Sexism’ in top government jobs: Campaigners against gender gap push Hong Kong civil service to hire more women”, January 1). Gender discrimination in employment is real.

Although the Hong Kong government always says it wants to do more to close the gender gap, I don’t think it is really helping women workers.

For example, we are not doing enough for working mothers. Take maternity leave. Women in Hong Kong are entitled to 10 weeks of maternity leave from work, at four-fifths of their average daily wages. In more progressive societies, women get about 12 weeks and 100 per cent of their wages.

Moreover, Hong Kong does not have clear legislation to ensure that pregnant women and new mothers will not face any discrimination at work, such as unfair dismissal. The government can do more to protect their rights.

Another reason why women don’t get the top jobs is social stigma. According to the article, there were 854 male but only 445 female officers in director positions in 2014. Hong Kong has never had a female chief executive or even chief executive candidates. The traditional Chinese mindset views women as the caregivers at home and men as the breadwinners. Some people still think a woman takes a job only because the family cannot make ends meet.

Wong Si Wai, Kowloon Tong

Check prices at supermarket cashiers

I suggest we all check prices when cashiers at supermarkets are billing our purchases. What started as rare cases have become common now, and the price displayed is sometimes not the price charged at the checkout counters.

It seems most of the time the discrepancy in prices is not caught by unsuspecting customers, so many end up with higher bills. Recently we have caught such mistakes at Wellcome, ParknShop, Taste – all three of them.

Narendra Kumar, Tsim Sha Tsui

A universal scheme is the best option

In recent years, there has been a great deal of discussion on the implementation of a universal retirement protection scheme. People in favour of this policy uphold the value of “universal”, claiming that senior citizens, after contributing to the community for decades, deserve the benefits of getting a monthly payment of, say, HK$3,500 (one of the proposed amounts).

Most of us agree that a universal approach is necessary. It enables people with a relatively low standard of living to satisfy their basic needs, such as the daily necessities. In fact, HK$3,500 is not enough. But, at least, it provides some help to those in financial difficulties.

The current debate centres on whether protection should be universal, or whether means testing should be introduced.

Fiscal conservatives have put forth many statistics to back their argument that the universal approach is not sustainable, given our ageing society, while means testing is preferred because it acts as a “safety net” and ensures funds do not go to the rich.

Yet, the universal approach is based on our civil rights. It means people in every income bracket have the right to a monthly pension. Under this approach, any discrimination can be eliminated.

By restricting the pension to elderly in need, we risk labelling the beneficiaries, which creates other problems.

The universal approach could be funded with higher taxes from corporations. It embodies equality and would aid in the redistribution of wealth.

Natalie Yuen Choi Wah, Hung Hom

Let’s wait for the facts in bookseller case

The mysterious disappearance of a Hong Kong bookseller has led to a lot of speculation about what really happened. Many believe Lee Bo was kidnapped by mainland enforcement officers.

According to the Basic Law, only local law enforcement agencies have the authority to enforce the law in Hong Kong. In other words, mainland enforcement agencies are not allowed to exercise their power here. Thus, if this rumour is true, then Beijing will have violated the Basic Law.

However, no matter how plausible the rumour seems to be, I think we must not jump to conclusions until all the facts are clear.

Choi Lok Yiu, Yau Yat Chuen

Speak out against infringement

I was shocked by the news that several people in Hong Kong connected with a publisher of books critical of China’s communist leaders have disappeared, suspected of being taken by mainland authorities. Before this happened, I had believed that the pan-democrats were exaggerating the threat to upholding human rights in Hong Kong.

All along, while the central government cracked down on brave dissidents on the mainland, we in Hong Kong could speak out against the regime without worrying about our safety. Even so, a lot of people did not defend our fragile freedoms, believing that stability is above everything.

Now we know. Nasty tricks such as appointing an unpopular chief executive and revoking pan-democrats’ home return permits are no longer enough; the communist regime has started to directly interfere with our freedoms.

We can’t remain asleep to this threat of dictatorship. We cannot follow the example of the silent majority on the mainland. The best response is solidarity among the people in support of justice.

Henry Wong, Kennedy Town

Hong Kong has real reason for concern

The case of Lee Bo raises suspicions that he has been kidnapped and smuggled to the mainland. It is one thing for Beijing to enforce its repressive human rights policies on the mainland; it is quite another to operate in Hong Kong. The case of Mr Lee is further evidence that the Chinese Communist Party is overstepping its legal authority. What Hong Kong residents once took for granted is now raising serious concerns among its 7 million citizens.

Brian Stuckey, Denver, Colorado, US