More dubious decisions from Hong Kong Inc


SCMP Tuesday April 29 2008

Does the hypocrisy of Hong Kong's establishment know no bounds? Where are the limits to self-serving, government-approved cartels? Can the bureaucracy ever distinguish between the public interest and the vested interests which offer them soft retirement jobs?

Just one issue last week of the South China Morning Post provided ample answers to those questions. In no particular order, they included:

First, the prosecution of the operator of a website, which carried contact numbers and addresses of the services of prostitutes, for living off immoral earnings. This was, I am told, one of several such sites which enable individual prostitutes to connect with clients.

That might be regarded as a useful service which makes such women less prone to protection rackets than might otherwise be the case. The more important point, however, is why the operator of this site was prosecuted when several newspapers have long carried similar information. And when the Yellow Pages carry advertisements for escort and massage services, and the sauna and massage facilities of some luxury hotels are known as little more than fronts for sexual services.

Don't expect well-known business figures close to the government to be prosecuted for living off immoral earnings. Instead, go after a little-known website that may not be controlled by a patriotic triad boss.

Second, there was the Medical Council's decision to merely give a suspended three-month removal from the doctors' registry to a doctor who had given a patient no less than 17 types of medicine on a single day, 10 of which had illegible labels and included so-called 'health food' supplements. This same doctor had previously received a suspended order against him for giving kickbacks to a beauty centre when he worked as a plastic surgeon. The chief-executive-appointed council appears to the outside observer to be a typical professional body which is reluctant to admit its members' failings, or to tackle the illegal kickbacks between GPs and consultants or providers of related goods and services.

Third, the issue of tunnel and ferry fares is again to the fore, with applications for big rises by the Star Ferry and the Tate's Cairn Tunnel. I have no opinion on whether or not these are justified. What is justified by a multitude of factors is a steep increase in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel toll - whether to reflect inflation, reduce traffic jams, raise public revenue, reduce pollution or simply operate as a commercial enterprise like the western and eastern harbour ones.

But no, the government thinks this would be too unpopular. Unpopular with whom? Not with the vast majority who travel through it on licensed public buses, which could be exempted to encourage public transport. Not even well-paid bureaucrats who could afford the increase and speed the passage to their free and untaxed car-parking perk.

Fourth is the government's use of its recently acquired stake in HK Exchanges and Clearing, to swing the vote for elected directors - it already appoints several. It owes the public, in whose trust the shares are held, an explanation. Do the individuals concerned have business dealings with Executive Council members? Are they to be relied on to stand in the way of better corporate governance? Meanwhile, the government has reappointed three trusties, all on quasi-government bodies and connected to property developers, to the board - Ronald Arculli, Laura Cha Shih May-leung and Moses Cheng Mo-chi.

And, finally, to appease the construction and other vested interests who luxuriate on Exco, the government has declined to enforce compulsory recycling of waste, but is pushing ahead with plans to use part of a country park as a rubbish tip. And that is after voting to spend HK$39 billion of public money on a high-speed railway to Guangzhou - lots of lucrative construction contracts there - without presenting any cost/benefit analysis.




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