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
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
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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