Letters to the Editor, March 19, 2018

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 5:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 5:55pm

Easy to tax vacant flats if tied to rebates

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has said policymakers are considering imposing a vacancy tax on hoarders of empty flats to tackle the housing shortage (“Tax on vacant Hong Kong flats under consideration”, March 16). 

The extraordinarily low interest rate environment in Hong Kong means that the cost of keeping an empty property is relatively small for speculators and investors.

Other cities, such as Vancouver and Melbourne, are already addressing this problem with taxes on empty properties. 

The aim in Hong Kong should be to encourage investors to make these empty homes available to rent. The objection that it would be hard to enforce is easily solved. 

The government should tax all residential properties at a significantly higher rate and credit back the tax payment as an offset, either one-time against the homeowner/investor’s personal income tax bills or the taxes due on their rental ­income. 

Investors with no rental ­income (that is, a de facto empty property) would get no relief and would automatically bear the cost of an “empty property” tax.

Paul Gardiner, Happy Valley 

Free DSE akin to ‘Hunger Games’ 

I disagree with Mr Henry Wong’s argument on the fee waiver for the 2019 Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam (“Why fears over DSE distortion are unfounded”, March 12).

Mr Wong stated that, as up to 15,000 grade 5* or 5** are awarded each year, the scores are unlikely to be skewed by a small number of “professional” candidates.

However, he missed the fact that the number of candidates sitting each subject varies significantly; some have fewer than a thousand, so a few outliers may suffice to skew the curve among the top graders.

Mr Wong argued that it is the candidate’s responsibility to guard against being distracted by unprepared troublemakers, and further referred to statistics on rule violation being not exceptionally high, and the number of private candidates who were not repeaters having been low. 

However, a universal fee waiver, as pledged for the 2019 DSE, is an unprecedented policy, so statistics are useless. 

There will inevitably be a surge in first-time private candidates entering the “game” at no cost. 

Extremes from the two ends of the performance spectrum will undermine the credibility of the DSE. I dread that our kids would be hapless tributes entering the “Hunger Games”, facing slaughter by professional “killers”.

Henry Ko, Tai Wai

History will be lost if nation loses Cantonese

I read with concern about Cantonese falling out of favour with youngsters in Guangzhou, who think learning traditional characters is useless when the schools and the government discourage it amid a policy to make Mandarin the mainstream language.

But Cantonese has unique idioms, tones and expressions that are worth preserving. Also, without Cantonese, one cannot fully appreciate poems composed during the Tang dynasty, the golden age for Chinese poetry.

To have a common language is good policy. But schools should not totally abandon Cantonese. It is a part of Chinese traditional culture going back 2,000 years. It is the living language of our ancestors and contains the stories or history of all Chinese. 

Jason Ng, Tseung Kwan O

Don’t confine autistic kids to special schools

I refer to the letter from Y. Cheng on cruel myths about autism that go against the ideal of Hong Kong as an inclusive society.

I think part of the problem may be that such children only attend special needs school. As such, they only interact with other special needs pupils, and thus may find it difficult to develop good communication skills.

To raise awareness, and understanding, of autism, a starting point would be to include children with mild autism in mainstream schools.

Overseas research has shown that children with special needs, such as those with mild autism, benefit from integrating into mainstream schools, as they are then more likely to learn better communication skills from peers, which will help them to integrate better into society.

Integrating only mild special needs children in this way would be better, so as not to affect the overall progress of the classroom.

The Hong Kong government could do a lot to correct misconceptions about autism, through campaigns in the press, and broadcast and social media, as well as talks and seminars. 

Citizens can also help start the conversation, and lend support to those living with the disorder, by getting involved with an organisation or school programme that works with children on the autism spectrum. It is often when we come face to face with those living with the condition that we realise how a lot of our preconceived ideas are just unfair myths.

Eunice Li, Shanghai

Terminally ill deserve dignity during last days

My sister, a British national, passed away in Hong Kong earlier this year, after a battle with cancer.

When I visited her during her stay at Queen Mary Hospital, she asked me to request the nurses to cut her overgrown finger- and toenails. But none of the nurses in attendance at her ward offered such services. They told me that it was not related to their work.

I was taken aback at such a response. I hope that the Hospital Authority can look into matters concerning services for the terminally ill – even if it means adding extra charges to the bill – so that such patients are able to live out their last days with dignity. 

K.M. Nasir, Mid-Levels