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Weasel words from Donald Tsang on new air quality objectives for HK

South China Morning Post – 26 Oct 2011

Those concerned with Hong Kong’s awful roadside pollution may have been heartened by the chief executive’s undertaking on RTHK last week to implement the territory’s long delayed new air quality objectives (AQOs).

AQOs are supposed to be the benchmark for an acceptable level of air quality. Hong Kong’s current AQOs were established in 1987 and are now hopelessly outdated, but the Environment Bureau nevertheless continues with its daily farce of producing an air pollution index based on these AQOs, which are way below World Health Organisation guidelines.

So when the bureau says roadside pollution is “severe” or very high – as it frequently is – you can assume the level is horrendous.

When the chief executive was questioned last week by Erica Chan Fong-ying, Clean Air Network (CAN) spokesperson, about the delay in implementing new AQOs for Hong Kong, he said they would be introduced in the Legislative Council for discussion before the end of this year. “I hope that the law will be enacted, and I will try my very best to have them enacted, by the end of my term of office,” said Tsang, who steps down in June next year.

However, these appear to be weasel words since, according to an e-mail from CAN, they differ significantly from what Legco-member Audrey Eu Yuet-mee was told during a meeting with the bureau. She says she was told by Anissa Wong Sean-yee, permanent secretary for the environment, that the AQOs will not be discussed until “the second half of next year”.

In an e-mail from Eu to CAN, she wrote, “In other words [new AQOs will not be introduced] within this Legco term. I asked whether there was any legislative slot for new AQOs and the answer was, no.”

CAN comments in its e-mail, “Empty and disingenuous words appear to be an ingrained habit of the chief executive,” while noting that two years have passed since the government proposed new AQOs to the public for consultation.

The government was criticised by the Ombudsman in May for dragging its feet in implementing new AQOs, and Tsang promised then that new AQOs would be in place by the end of the year. That promise looks hollower by the day.


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