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MPs call for evidence on post-Brexit environment strategy

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has set a September deadline for the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (EU) David Davis, and new Minister for the Environment Therese Coffey to reveal how they plan to handle environmental policies during exit negotiations.

A letter from Labour MP and EAC chair Mary Creagh has called on the two ministers to deliver oral evidence at House’s September sitting as to how negotiating a deal to leave the EU will impact environmental policies such as air quality, water pollution and waste management.

“The Committee is particularly concerned and wishes to seek reassurance about the Government’s plans for the large proportion of UK environmental law that originated from EU level, the Government’s approach to ongoing negotiations around EU measures such as the Circular Economy Package and how the Government intends to maintain the benefits of transnational cooperation on environmental issues such as climate change,” Creagh said in the letter.

In the letter, which arrived just weeks after an inquiry on how Brexit would affect UK climate policy was launched, Creagh noted that the EU had implemented a “widespread impact on the environment” with many of the legislative measures covering the environment and climate change established at EU level.

Creagh also alluded to recent ONS figures, which show that the UK’s low-carbon and renewables economy was worth £46.2bn and supported nearly 250,000 jobs, as a reason why there are concerns that the Government may “deprioritise the issue”.

The letter claimed that business investors required “stability” and that the Brexit strategy should provide evidence on how the UK plans to tackle its worsening air quality levels and its “poor quality” water sites. A blueprint should also be provided on how the UK plants to improve biodiversity protection, which is likely to be secured through a new €12m MoorLIFE 2020 project.

The letter also calls on the ministers to provide evidence on how any policy changes or amendments would secure the current platform that has allowed the UK to “show global leadership on climate change”. Last month, former Energy Secretary Amber Rudd reassured delegates at the Business and Climate Summit that post-Brexit Britain would not step back from climate leadership.

Commenting on the letter, Friends of the Earth Campaigner Sam Lowe said: “It is essential that the government upholds current EU protections for our nature and wildlife and looks to improve them. With over 70% of our environmental laws coming from Europe, the government must urgently clarify its intent to create UK rules which will fully protect our environment.

“The government must also make sure that existing laws continue to be enforced throughout the negotiation period and that weakened protection for our environment doesn’t become a by-product of Brexit uncertainty.”

Circular Economy

The Circular Economy Package – which includes 65% recycling targets, tools to halve food waste by 2030, and measures to promote reparability in the design phase of products – has been one of the biggest areas of uncertainty surrounding the UK’s ability to trade products outside of a Member State status.

Speaking exclusively at edie’s Resource Revolution event earlier this month, chair of the UK’s Circular Economy Taskforce Sue Armstrong-Brown said the only way for Britain to open up trading streams with the EU after it leaves the bloc will be to create much more recyclable, repairable and reusable products and services. However, there are concerns that Brexit could lead to the collapse of the UK’s plateauing recycling rates.

Matt Mace


MPs have expressed their concern at the future of EU-derived environmental policy in the government’s Brexit negotiations and have asked members of the government to clarify their position.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), wrote to Brexit Secretary David Davis and new Environment minister Therese Coffey to seeks assurances about plans for the large proportion of UK environmental law that originates from the EU.

Following a public inquiry completed earlier this year, the EAC concluded that the EU had been ‘crucial’ in shaping British environmental policy and helping the UK lose its moniker as ‘the dirty man of Europe’.

Davies was given the new role Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union during Theresa May’s governmental reshuffle earlier this month, which also saw Coffey join the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), replacing Resources Minister Rory Stewart, though her role at the department has yet to be formally confirmed.

Reassurances sought

Both ministers have been invited by Creagh to provide oral evidence to the EAC when Parliament reconvenes in September to explain how the government intends to approach environmental issues during the Brexit negotiations.

In particular the committee wants to hear about plans for the environmental law that was derived from the EU and the government’s approach to EU-wide initiatives like the Circular Economy Package, which is seeking to facilitate a more resource-efficient way of life and is currently working its way around the European institutions for ratification.

Ministers from Defra told the inquiry that little had been planned for the eventuality that Britain might vote to leave the EU prior to the referendum in June, but did warn that a vote to leave would trigger a ‘long and tortuous negotiation’ over environmental laws and industries.

Creagh’s letter reads: ‘There are few areas of government policy where the decision to leave the European Union will have a more widespread impact than the environment.

‘Britain’s membership of the EU has been crucial to the improvement of UK air quality, the cleaning up of water pollution, the management of waste, and the protection of biodiversity. It has given us a platform on which we can show global leadership in tackling climate change.’

The EAC’s report stated that EU membership has ensured that environmental action in the UK has been taken on a faster timetable, and ‘if the UK were free to set its own environmental standards, it would set them at a less stringent level than has been imposed by the EU’. It also pointed to the lack of air pollution action taken prior to EU air quality limits.

Creagh continued: ‘My Committee believes the government should, as a minimum, commit to maintaining in law the existing level of environmental protection currently guaranteed by EU law.’

One of the main worries of the majority of the waste and resources industry prior to the referendum was what impact Brexit would have on investment in infrastructure, both in the long and short term.

Creagh, who was a vocal campaigner to remain in the EU, wrote: ‘Businesses and investors will be looking for stability at this time. It is crucial that the Government demonstrates its commitment to environmental protection at an early stage in the exit negotiations…

‘We would like to know what enforcement mechanisms and changes to regulatory regimes are planned.’

Who’s ruining ‘one country, two systems’?

Beijing has made it clear that it doesn’t want advocates of Hong Kong independence to run in the upcoming Legislative Council elections.

In a recent speech, Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office of the central government in Hong Kong, asked if allowing independence advocates to run in the Legco polls or become members of the legislature is in line with the “one country, two systems” principle that governs China’s rule over the territory.

He said: “If Hong Kong independence advocates are allowed to turn the run-up to the Legco election into a process of proactive promotion of independence, or even allow them to enter Legco gloriously, does this comply with the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, the Basic Law and the principle of the rule of law?

“Which direction would it take Hong Kong society toward? Is this a blessing or a curse for the city? This is not just a legal matter, but also a matter of right and wrong, bottom line and principle, and a matter that concerns the city’s direction of development.

“Everyone who is genuinely concerned about Hong Kong’s well-being should think deeply and be alert about this.”

His remarks came on the heels of a new requirement by the Electoral Affairs Commission for Legco candidates to sign a declaration of allegiance to the Basic Law and the Hong Kong SAR government, particularly its provision that the territory is under Chinese sovereignty.

By its very action of meddling in the political affairs of Hong Kong, Beijing is violating the “one China, two systems” principle.

While promoting the policy to show to the world that it is giving the territory a high degree of autonomy, Beijing has continued to play a leading role in the city’s political affairs.

It has been building its relationship with local organizations and communities to boost its influence in the grassroots.

While appearing to be a benevolent parent or guidance counsellor to the government, Beijing has virtually become the ruling party of Hong Kong.

It has been calling the shots since 1997. It has been dictating to Hong Kong officials what policies to pursue, what projects to undertake, and even who should be voted into office.

Under existing Hong Kong laws, any Hong Kong resident with sufficient nomination should be qualified to run as a candidate in any election.

There are no laws requiring candidates to pledge their allegiance to Beijing.

As such, any requirement that election candidates must pledge their loyalty to Beijing is an infusion of Chinese norms into Hong Kong’s political environment.

In fact, the Basic Law is meant to protect Hong Kong from direct intervention from China.

Article 22 states: “No department of the Central People’s Government and any province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.”

Of course, Hong Kong people respect Zhang’s right to speak out on the current political situation in Hong Kong.

But considering that he is the most senior official of the Chinese government in Hong Kong, he should be circumspect about the impact of his remarks, and see to it that they don’t raise doubts about Beijing’s implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle.

Beijing officials should understand that the emergence of individuals and groups advocating independence or self-determination resulted from their own failure to allow Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders through genuine universal suffrage.

These individuals and groups are presenting the concept of independence as an option to Hong Kong people, which is in line with the freedom of expression that they are supposed to continue to enjoy despite the change of sovereignty in 1997.

It is a principle that is being presented by certain candidates to the electorate, and whether that principle is acceptable to the people will depend on the results of the election.

These candidates should not be maligned and accused of pushing Hong Kong to disaster. It’s up to the Hong Kong people to discuss and determine whether the principles and concepts they advocate are acceptable or not.

In short, let the people decide.

In February, an independence advocate, Edward Leung of Hong Kong Indigenous, secured 15 percent of the votes in the Legco by-election.

That’s a strong showing, and it reflects the people’s growing disenchantment with the way Beijing has been meddling in the affairs of Hong Kong.

They are attracted to the concept of independence because Beijing, through its loyalists in the SAR government, has failed to maintain a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong as promised under the Basic Law.

They think that after the 1997 handover, Hong Kong has remained under colonial rule, but the masters this time come from China.

Despite its promise, Beijing has failed to respect the uniqueness of Hong Kong and has been making efforts to turn it into a Chinese city.

The current SAR administration’s focus on participating in the Belt and Road initiative is but one example of this policy to integrate Hong Kong into China’s economic system, denying the territory the right to explore its options and build its own economic model.

But no matter how determined Beijing is in condemning pro-independence candidates and preventing them from winning seats in the legislature, the idea that they are fighting for will continue to grow unless the conditions that allowed it to germinate remain in place.

Yawning gap between the legislature Hong Kong needs, and the one it has

Alice Wu says with the current Legco session now ended, we should look closely at the gap between members’ vows at the start of the year and their actual, woeful performance

Some Hong Kong lawmakers have a knack for turning lawmaking into a practice so alien that we feel completely discombobulated. Now that the legislative term has ended and we’ll be electing people to the sixth Legislative Council in six weeks, it’s time to revisit what legislatures are supposed to do.

A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws. And it is serious business, although some of our lawmakers do not seem to understand why their office carries the “honourable” prefix. The man at the centre of the filibuster on the medical reform bill, the “Honourable” Leung Ka-lau, a medical doctor, has proudly admitted many a time that lawmaking is just his “part-time job”. Surely, the dignity of the legislature is tarnished not only by flying objects; it is attitudes like this – that Legco business is not worth more than perfunctory attention – that is damaging. With his abysmal attendance record, one wonders why the good doctor even bothered to show up at all, or why he ran for the seat in the first place.

The medical reform fiasco certainly made sure that the current term didn’t go out with a bang, and unfortunately, it exemplifies what the council has become. Too little deliberation goes on at this deliberative assembly. Or perhaps our lawmakers do not think talking to reach agreement is their duty. They much prefer to talk to stall. And judging by the time spent on filibustering this year, which has been reported to be twice as long as last year, our lawmakers really love the sound of their voices.

When the September polls come around, voters should consider the discrepancy between some lawmakers’ vow at the beginning of the legislative year to use moderation when it comes to filibustering, and the reality. Filibustering that lasted twice as long is no moderation.

Another legislative “fetish” they seem to have developed is their love for roll-calling, or maybe it’s the sound of the quorum bells ringing. If people have compared them to unruly schoolchildren in the past, then I guess some of them have grown to love this identity. Perhaps the next Legislative Council would consider having members wear school uniforms to meetings. Cosplay may not be unparliamentary.

It’s almost unfathomable today that 20 years ago, “foul grass grows out of a foul ditch” was ruled offensive language inappropriate for use in the chamber. Indeed, times have changed. One lawmaker – also on the list of legislators with poor attendance – used the very little time he spends inside the chamber to showcase his obnoxiousness.

Among the things he will be remembered for is the Cantonese term that literally means “stumbling on the street” but is often translated as “drop dead”. Thanks to him, the term made it into Legco’s official record for expressions ruled unparliamentary. A total class act.

The Legco Public Accounts Committee has recently expressed “grave concern” over the HK$172 million in lost government revenue that the government has not been able to collect in rates and rents. It is certainly a matter that deserves public concern, but lest they forget, a lawmaker did actually call for Hongkongers to not pay their rates and government rents as a legitimate form of protest. Technically, a member of the council encouraged this sort of behaviour, but now the council expresses “grave concern”?

HK$172 million is not chump change, but neither is the HK$771.3 million spent on running the legislature for 2015-16. By this paper’s latest count (July 8), lawmakers have so far spent 108 hours on quorum counts for the 2015-16 legislative year alone. It is disgusting that our lawmakers spent as much time counting heads as firefighters did in fighting the deadly Ngau Tau Kok inferno.

If we consider the homeless shelter that the council recently rejected, we would see that it’s not simply delaying tactics that our lawmakers love. The project has been on the table for almost four years, and plans have been revised to address issues lawmakers had initially objected to. It was endorsed by the public works subcommittee before it was sabotaged.

Our legislators like to say they act for “the people”. As “the people”, it is time that we hold them to account.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA


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Hong Kong government departments ‘fail to co-ordinate and are too slow when tackling problems’

Ombudsman’s annual report highlights problems in public administration and identifies the worst offenders

The Ombudsman has taken Hong Kong government departments to task for “inadequate co-ordination” that has led to persistent problems in public administration, while criticising their “slow pace” in follow-up action to resolve problems.

It found that when faced with problems officials were too quick to pass the buck to other departments or blame staff shortages for not taking action.

In releasing its annual report on Tuesday, the Ombudsman also revealed that 485 complaints were made against the Housing Department in the past year , followed by 420 complaints against the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and 261 for the Lands Department.

In total, the Ombudsman received 5,244 complaints in the past year, down slightly from 5,339 in the previous year. The Ombudsman has completed looking into 5,244 complaints, some of them brought forward from the previous year.

A total of 226 cases were more complex and thus required “full investigation”. Among them, 12.8 per cent were substantiated, 13.3 per cent partially substantiated, 62.8 per cent unsubstantiated, 9.8 per cent unsubstantiated but with inadequacies found, and 1.3 per cent inconclusive.

“In the course of our investigation, we have noticed that where solving a problem requires the input of more than one department, inadequate coordination is found among departments,” Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing said.

“The problem is often left unattended and becomes nobody’s problem as every department would say they do not have sufficient power to handle it. And where more than one department can actually solve the problem without help from others, the responsibility for solving the problem is seen as belonging to others who are in a better position to tackle it.”

It was the second consecutive year that the Housing Department topped the list. But Lau said it was “not a surprise” that some departments received more complaints because some had more contact with the public.

Deputy Ombudsman So Kam-shing said common complaints to the Housing Department included poor estate management and a failure to tackle noise pollution.

Of the 20 full investigations into the Housing Department, two were substantiated, three partially substantiated, four unsubstantiated but with adequacies found, and 10 unsubstantiated.

The Housing Department replied that it had established procedures to handle cases being investigated by the Ombudsman.

“Each complaint is thoroughly investigated by the department before a reply is given to the complainant or the Ombudsman,” a spokesman said.

“Recommendations and suggestions for redressing grievances and/or improving administration quality made by the Ombudsman are critically considered in an open and positive manner.”

The department would continue to strive to improve in face of rising public expectations and take note of the Ombudsman’s views on its works, the spokesman said.
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Wong Kam Shing – GOLD BAUHINIA STAR, awarded for ……what ?

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‘Draconian’: Human rights groups slams China’s new controversial NGO law

Human Rights in China and Human Rights Watch have criticised China’s new law governing foreign non-government organizations (NGOs). The law, passed Thursday, imposes a series of new regulations and gives authorities expanded powers that activists say threaten the existence of foreign NGOs and civil society in China.

The US-based Human Rights Watch called the law “draconian” and another tool to “legalise China’s human rights abuses.”

“Civil society groups have been one of the only human rights success stories in China in recent years, and their survival is crucial for the country’s future,” said Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch. “So long as repressive restrictions are imposed on some parts of civil society in China, all organisations remain at risk.”

The new law is set to take effect on January 1, 2017 and will require all foreign NGOs to be sponsored by a Chinese government organisation. The law also requires the NGOs to register with the police and Ministry of Public Security, rather than the Ministry of Civil Affairs as they have in the past.

Another US-based NGO, Human Rights in China, stated that the new law has “the potential to undermine the role and contributions that foreign organisations make toward China’s growing civil society.”

“The international community needs to avoid getting suckered into China’s divide-and-conquer strategy and must reject the clearly politicised distinction between the ‘harmful’ and beneficial’, especially when ‘beneficial’ really means beneficial to Party control,” added Human Rights in China executive director Sharon Hom.

“Ultimately no group will be deemed welcome unless it is willing to work within a constricted civil society space that is securely monitored and controlled by the authorities.”

Deeply concerned at passage of new NGO law in #China. Act limits space for civil society; puts legitimate work of independent NGOs at risk.

Big business wins again in John Tsang’s budget for Hong Kong

Philip Bowring says the financial secretary has again presented a budget that coddles the rich and powerful while offering mere crumbs to SMEs and disadvantaged groups

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah may be “distressed and angry” at recent evidence of social conflict, but his highly political budget speech did not suggest an understanding of the “why”.

That surely includes an unrepresentative government comprised of lifetime bureaucrats turned politicians who find it hard to think outside their own little 1970s-designed boxes.

Our fiscal reserves have become a fetish designed to limit spending on social needs

Tsang has been in the job for nine years, but he has yet to make any progress in resolving what the government itself has long admitted is a serious fiscal flaw – the dependence on land price inflation and volatile stamp duty revenue. Broadening the tax base has long been a stated goal. Yet, again, he has made the problem worse by reducing the reach of salaries tax, and by a rates waiver.

Salaries tax now accounts for a pitiful 12 per cent of revenue as the government becomes ever more reliant on less stable sources, including profits tax (28 per cent) – which is now vulnerable to foreign or mainland crackdowns on tax avoidance through transfer pricing. For sure, the cuts are supposed to be temporary, but he will have a hard time reversing the salaries tax concession next year, particularly if the economy continues to face stiff headwinds. As it is, he says the local economy is “laden with risks “ for the coming year.

The claim that his tax concessions will boost the economy by 1 per cent hides the fact that the government has been a contractionary force on the economy for the past year (and beyond) through its accumulation of reserves. If Tsang’s budget forecasts are correct, the government will at best be neutral. He also vastly overstates the impact that a slew of little measures to help tourism, small and medium-sized enterprises, IT and robotics industry development and the like can have in an open economy. Nor should government be involved in promoting events like the Rugby Sevens tournament – which is always sold out anyway! Government exists to facilitate, not subsidise.

The surplus for 2015/16 was actually bigger than it first appears, as Tsang continued the policy of squirrelling away yet more revenue into special, hard-to-reach reserve funds. For the second year running, almost all the income from investment of the reserves has been credited not, as was and should be the case, to operating revenue but transferred to the Housing Reserve.

This kind of manipulation of the accounts both to conceal surpluses and make them harder to access in future is, Tsang should consider, one reason for distrust of government. As it is, the Future Fund was created with the express purpose of not being touchable for at least 10 years and now comprises HK$219 billion of the fiscal reserves. The fund is supposed to invest longer term, but no details of its performance are available.

Meanwhile, the return on the other reserves are estimated at a miserable 3.3 per cent for 2016 and 2.6 per cent to 3.5 per cent average for 2017 to 2020 – barely above the projected rate of consumer price inflation (2.5 per cent). Clearly these funds would be better invested if distributed to the public for their pension plans.

Tsang again misleads by stating that the fiscal reserves “are all we have at our disposal”, conveniently forgetting the HK$600 billion retained profits of the Monetary Authority, which is an arm of government and does not need these for exchange rate management. As for the statement that “our fiscal reserves are the mainstay of our economy”, this can only be described as arrogant nonsense. They have become a fetish designed to limit spending on social needs. Meanwhile, lavish spending on capital projects with little or no financial or economic return steams ahead to satisfy “one country” or local vested-interest demands.

Tsang peppered his speech with references to the increasing burdens of an ageing society. Future belt-tightening was called for to avoid resulting deficits. Yet Tsang’s own forecasts for the coming five years show capital spending rising by 50 per cent, to HK$132 billion, while operating spending rises just 25 per cent. So, clearly, we are going to have to pay for more mega projects with minimal returns while health, welfare and education are squeezed.

Tsang did not go into specifics other than mention a desalination plant, a bizarre project for which no economic case has been made and for which there is surely no political justification.

The budget does contain a number of small measures to help the elderly but these are minor compared with tax cuts. And with all the emphasis on an ageing society, why not some real effort to raise the extraordinarily low fertility level by reducing the opportunity costs of raising children? Tsang’s idea of investing in the future is clearly one of pouring concrete, not investing in a new generation through childcare facilities, job protection for nursing mothers and other relatively low-cost ways of addressing this aspect of the ageing problem.

The government talks a lot about the problem of income disparities. These are clearly most visible among the elderly and young, low-income families. Yet this budget will, if anything, make matters worse. Nor will any amount of hand-wringing over riots, or budget crumbs for SMEs, counter the widespread public view that big business, whether property, construction or retailing, is always favoured by government policies.

Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator

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THE 2016-17 BUDGET

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ERP submission by Clear the Air

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