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Being an Official Means (Almost) Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

  • July 23, 2013, 5:32 PM

Being an Official Means (Almost) Never Having to Say You’re Sorry



Protesters demand an apology outside the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong on May 14, 2013 after a Taiwanese fisherman died in a fatal shooting by the Philippine Coast Guard.

Dolce & Gabbanna has said sorry. Hong Kong’s former leader has said sorry.

And if the city’s ombudsman has its way, a lot more people will be sounding penitent in Hong Kong in the years to come.

In recent months, the city has seen public apologies issued for everything from prohibitions on photography (in the case of Dolce & Gabbanna) to taking luxury trips with local tycoons (in the case of Donald Tsang, the city’s former chief executive). Now, the city’s ombudsman, which investigates complaints about public agencies, is pushing the government to consider legislation that would allow officials to say “I’m sorry” without fear of being sued.

Last year, the city’s ombudsman pursued 2,285 complaints made about public agencies’ conduct, ranging from disputes over the handling of noise ordinances to waste management. Apologies were issued in response to only 15% of the cases. And even when apologies were issued, the agency said, 85% came only after officials were pressed by the ombudsman.

Nadja Alexander, who directs an institute focusing on conflict resolution at Hong Kong Shue Yan University, said apology legislation was an important step for the city.

“We live in a litigious society, not only in Hong Kong, but also in places such as Europe, Australia and the U.S.,” she said. “People are often nervous about apologizing for fear a lawsuit’s going to be slapped on them and someone’s going to say, ‘You said it was your fault.’”

To help combat that fear, at least 36 states in the U.S., numerous Canadian provinces and all of Australia’s states and territories have passed apology legislation. Ms. Alexander said this type of legislation helps make it clear that apologies don’t necessarily constitute an admission of liability and can help reduce legal costs associated with medical mistakes and car accidents.

“When an apology is received as authentic, as really sincere, people who were wronged are less likely to seek revenge. They’re more likely to be able to feel they can forgive and less likely to litigate,” Ms. Alexander said.

Hong Kong knows firsthand about how upsetting it can be to miss out on an apology. Hong Kong’s government has asked more than 20 times for an apology from authorities in the Philippines over the 2010 bus hijacking that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead. Earlier this year, the city’s marine department director was slammed over his refusal to apologize for his department’s oversights, following last fall’s boat crash off of Lamma Island that left dozens dead. More recently, the outgoing American envoy in Hong Kong said the U.S. doesn’t an owe an apology to Hong Kong, or anyone, for allegations made last month by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

On Monday, Hong Kong’s department of justice said it has already set up a task force that’s considering the need for apology legislation.

In the meantime, the ombudsman said it would keep pushing to make apologies part of the city’s official toolkit. “My office will continue to make recommendations that public officials apologize as appropriate,” said ombudsman Alan Lai.

– Te-Ping Chen. Follow her on Twitter @tepingchen.

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Hong Kong journalist resigns in controversy over interview

Hong Kong journalist resigns in controversy over interview

A Hong Kong journalist has resigned in a controversy over her interview with Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group.

The journalist, Liu Yi, quit after claiming that the interview published by her newspaper, the South China Morning Post, was different from the one she wrote.

Before her resignation, she re-edited the online version of her article to “set the record straight.” The paper later restored the former piece.

She issued a statement on Facebook saying: “Ma never intended to make any comments about politics. I solemnly apologise to Mr Ma Yun [Jack Ma’s Chinese name] and resign from the South China Morning Post.”

The disputed passage in the interview, published on 13 July, concerned remarks Ma is supposed to have made in support of Beijing’s crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.

Ma denies having done so. However, he did describe the Chinese government as “terrific” and downplayed the significance of internet censorship. But his comments on Tiananmen Square provoked public criticism of Ma in Hong Kong.

The Post said in a statement that the reporter had accessed its system and replaced the editor-approved article with an altered version in which Ma’s reference to Tiananmen was removed.

Its statement said that the editor-approved version was restored and that Liu Yi had been suspended. She chose to resign on 19 July before an investigation had been completed.

It added that it stood behind the original published article, in which Ma appeared to endorse Deng Xiaoping in using force to crush the 1989 protests. (See here).

Florence Shih, a spokeswoman for Alibaba, said in an email to Reuters: “This is, at best, rookie journalism and, at worst, is malicious.”

Sources: Reuters/Wall Street Journal

Plan to make it easier to say sorry

Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:00am

NewsHong Kong


Emily Tsang and Patsy Moy

It may seem the hardest word to say for some officials, but government reveals it is looking at how to apologise without fear of being sued

The government may introduce a new law enabling public agencies to apologise without fear of legal liability.

The Department of Justice said last night that a steering committee, chaired by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, had been formed last year to study the need for such legislation.

The department was responding to a suggestion yesterday by Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin that a law might be required to overcome official reluctance to say sorry.

“Government officials may not apologise lightly to avoid losing face and out of fear of the legal responsibility that may follow,” Lai said.

“When key officials refuse to apologise, their junior staff are likely to follow suit. But sometimes a heartfelt apology could give a victim comfort.”

When key officials refuse to apologise, their junior staff are likely to follow suit. But sometimes a heartfelt apology could give a victim comfort

Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin

Director of Marine Francis Liu Hon-por came under fire for not apologising for the Lamma ferry disaster that claimed 39 lives on October 1 last year until nearly eight months later – in late May.

Liu said he had needed to seek legal advice first to avoid “possible problems” that could be raised by an official apology.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said a subcommittee of its panel established to study the issue would decide whether to recommend the introduction of relevant legislation, and whether it should be part of the Mediation Ordinance, which came into effect this year, or separate legislation.

A report would be released for consultation as soon as the study was complete.

Similar laws have been in force in many jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada and Australia for about 10 years, according to the chairman of the Joint Mediation Helpline Office, Chan Bing-woon.

He said a law would prevent an apology from being regarded as an admission of legal liability, which would put people at risk of legal action through the civil courts.

“Such legislation would help boost the success of mediation if a party is willing to make an apology to another side without the fear of being treated as admitting liability if the case is eventually heard in court,” Chan said.

Former Medical Association president Dr Choi Kin said the new law could change the culture within the medical world, where doctors and consultants can be reluctant to apologise over “unhappy incidents”.

“Refusing to say sorry is an old convention, and such an outdated notion should not be retained in society,” Choi said.

“Doctors are taught to feel for their patients and should be able to express sorrow over unhappy incidents,” he said.

“The gesture could lessen the pain suffered by the patients and relatives – but it should not be seen as accepting blame over the matter.”

Speaking at a joint press conference with RTHK yesterday to launch the drama series Ombudsman Special, Lai said the government had apologised in only about 300 out of 2,200 cases of complaints against different departments.

More than 80 per cent of the apologies had come only after intervention by the watchdog, he added.

Source URL (retrieved on Jul 23rd 2013, 9:53pm):

Friends of the Earth board acts to calm waters after resignation

Published on South China Morning Post (

Home > Friends of the Earth board acts to calm waters after resignation

Friends of the Earth board acts to calm waters after resignation

Tuesday, 04 June, 2013, 12:00am

NewsHong Kong


Cheung Chi-fai

Friends of the Earth board appoints interim CEO to appease staff worried about governance

Friends of the Earth’s board of governors will not ask its chairman to take over the group’s top administrative post after the former head resigned amid mistrust between the board and staff. May-ling resigned as chief executive without explanation last Friday after serving in the role for two years.

Her sudden departure has raised fears over how the group is being governed.

The chairman, Robert Yeung Man-kin, told staff of the decision yesterday in a move that might ease tension, at least temporarily.

Yeung said Merrin Pearse, head of communications and strategy, would be acting CEO until Chan’s successor was found through an open recruitment process.

Staff cautiously accepted the appointment as a compromise until the group’s annual general meeting on 20 June, when a new chairman will be elected.

Last Friday Yeung, a former oil firm executive, said he was on good terms with Chan.

But he did not directly respond to allegations about her departure that were widely reported the next day.

It is believed staff are angry that some board members are too hands-on in daily operations.

But Yeung denied there was too much intervention.

“There is neither over-managing nor micro-management,” he said.

Media reports also mentioned the performances of particular board members, with one being branded a “tumour” on the organisation by another member.

Board member Carlos Lo Wing-hung yesterday confirmed the “tumour” talk in what he described as a “free discussion” among members.

“It is just a generic analogy and is of the speaking style of a particular board member,” he said.

Lo also defended the board’s performance, saying its members had a legitimate right to set the visions and missions for the staff to follow.

“It is difficult to define excessive intervention. The board is always the driver of the organisation,” he said.

Lo also confirmed the board had discussed the possibility of asking a board member to be acting chief executive officer because it could be arranged quickly.

But Ng Cho-nam, a director of the Conservancy Association, said an overlap between the management and board was not desirable.

“Checks and balances might be compromised if there is an overlap,” he said.

Ng said the Hong Kong Council of Social Service had guidelines for its member welfare groups so that such overlap could be avoided.

There was also similar advice from the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Ng said there needed to be a sound structure that could both avoid over-relying on particular individuals in running the group and too much rigidity that prevented experienced people from contributing to the group continually.

Friends of the Earth Hong Kong was established in 1983.

The group now has about 12,000 members.


Friends of the Earth

Kennedy brothers rescue of sea turtle ‘violated federal law’ environment agency claims | Mail Online

Only in America ………………………………..

Kennedy brothers told they ‘violated federal law’ when they rescued distressed 500lb leatherback turtle tangled in fishing line

  • Protected species status bars public from touching turtles
  • Agency warns of drowning danger as large species can drag people under

By Jessica Jerreat

PUBLISHED: 17:23 GMT, 17 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:34 GMT, 18 July 2013




When Max and Robert Kennedy Jr. dived into the sea off Nantucket to free a large leatherback turtle tangled in fishing line, they had the best interests of the endangered animal at heart.

However, their ‘good deed’ violated a law that protects the endangered animals from being interfered with by people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Kennedys had been sailing off Nantucket on July 6 when they spotted the 500lb turtle in distress and decided to help.

Sea rescue: The Kennedy brothers dived into the sea off Nantucket to help a distressed leatherback turtle

Sea rescue: The Kennedy brothers dived into the sea off Nantucket to help a distressed leatherback turtle

A video filmed by passengers on their yacht, shows the men struggle to calm the turtle as they cut away the buoy line that was wrapped around its head and fin.

John Bullard, of the NOAA, said: ‘We’ve explained what they’ve done is a violation of the Endangered Species Act and we discourage people from doing it.’

He explained that it can be dangerous trying to help the large turtles, and said there was a risk of rescuers becoming entangled and dragged down.

There was also a risk of being pulled under by a turtle, which can weigh up to 700lb and hold its breath a lot longer than a human can, he told the Huffington Post.

You can get entangled, go under and it can turn into a tragedy,’ Mr Bullard added.

Distressed: The Kennedys cut the line wrapped around the turtle, but were later told their actions violated environmental laws

Distressed: The Kennedys cut the line wrapped around the turtle, but were later told their actions violated environmental laws

Kennedy brothers rescue turtle

Since being alerted to the dangers of the rescue mission, Robert Kennedy Jr released a statement, according to the Cape Cod Times.

‘When we spotted a sea turtle in trouble over the 4th of July weekend, our first impulse was to do what we could to help free the animal,’ he said.

‘But we realize that the action we took was pretty risky, these are large, powerful animals.’

The brothers, the sons of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, are both licensed wildlife rehabilitators.

Max Kennedy spotted the distressed turtle first, signalling what would become a 35-minute rescue operation.


‘It was clearly gonna die, so we went in, and we cut the rope off it,’ Robert Kennedy said a few days after the successful rescue.

However, wildlife officials recommend members of the public call for help, because it is illegal to handle the protected species.

People who approach endangered species can face a written warning and fines starting at $1,000 and rising to $23,000 depending on the level of interaction and intention, according to the NOAA.

Only the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies is certified to handle turtles in the region, and an environmental officer would also have been able to tag the turtle and collect vital information about the species.

Scott Landry, director of marine animal entanglement response for the Provincetown Center, told the Cape Cod Times: ‘We urge people not to do this. We understand that people are very well-intentioned.’

Robert Kennedy Jr

Max Kennedy

Mission: Robert Kennedy Jr, left, and his brother Max, spotted the leatherback while sailing in Nantucket

Protected: The leatherback turtle is so endangered is it against the law for the public to touch them

Protected: The leatherback turtle is so endangered is it against the law for the public to touch them

The Kennedys were able to help the center however, by supplying pictures and evidence of the type of line wrapped around the turtle.

Since being given protected species status in the U.S. numbers of leatherback sea turtles, which can hold their breath for up to 85 minutes, have started to stabilize in the Atlantic.

The number of reports of tangled turtles has increased to 22 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York this year, up from eight in the same period last year.

Government squandering human capital

Published on South China Morning Post (

Home > Letters to the Editor, July 9, 2013

Letters to the Editor, July 9, 2013

Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 12:00am


Government squandering human capital

Jake van der Kamp’s ramble around the subject of Hong Kong’s education system left me rather bemused (“International school model works fine [5]“, June 27)

Van der Kamp goes out of his way to be provocative, so I’m not going to waste words picking him up on the over-generalisations in his article.

All I would say is that he doesn’t seem to understand much about the International Baccalaureate programme.

There is nothing “regimented” about the curriculum; on the contrary, it offers students a wide range of options as regards the subjects they study and the levels at which they feel comfortable to be examined.

It also encourages students to research and read around topics, rather than simply regurgitate information learned in class or from textbooks. I do agree with him on one key point, however: it is the local rather than international school system that is in need of review.

Despite the fact that, along with Cantonese, English is an official language in Hong Kong, the government has no coherent policy for providing subsidised school places for the children of local English-speaking families. Most of these families are permanent residents and, like van der Kamp, pay their fair share of tax. It is wrong that they should basically be told: if you cannot afford international school fees, your child must struggle along, without adequate support, in a local curriculum school.

The handful of Direct Subsidy Schools, that offer an international as well as local stream at much lower fees, simply do not have enough places to meet demand, a situation that will be compounded as the subvention to the English Schools Foundation is progressively phased out and more middle-income families are priced out of that market.

Is anyone in government looking at the big picture? By mandating a rigid divide between local and international schools and insisting that only schools providing the local curriculum qualify for government funding, the administration is discriminating against non-Chinese-speaking minorities.

It is squandering valuable human capital, in the shape of children who will be unable to achieve their full potential, and doing nothing to help narrow the ever-widening gap between “the haves” and “have-nots” in our society.

Elizabeth Bosher, Discovery Bay

HK near top of shameful league

As we congratulate the good work of customs officers who smashed an illicit cigarette syndicate in north New Territories and seized about 1.1 million sticks of contraband cigarettes on Sunday, we shouldn’t forget Hong Kong’s illicit cigarette trade is thriving.

Independent surveys consistently indicate cigarettes, for which taxes have not been paid, account for more than 40 per cent of the consumer market.

With 19 sticks being the duty free import limit, it is fair to assume that most of the cigarettes, for which duty has not been paid, are illicit.

This places Asia’s world city near the top of a shameful league of tax evaders in the region.

Enforcement statistics present a picture with over 11,000 arrests of illicit traders last year, up from 6,033 in 2010. Despite the arrests, the criminal organisations behind the illegal trade continue to brazenly advertise their range of products and commonly post fliers in housing estates. The business is lucrative and consequentially represents billions in lost revenue every year.

The establishment of the advocacy group, the Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco (HKUAIT), is designed to raise public awareness and garner public support.

There are no ulterior motives other than to protect the livelihood of some and curb a tendency for others to enter into undesirable business with organised crime.

The government is duty-bound to use its considerable resources to tackle the problem at source.

How it chooses to do so remains to be seen but the group will be looking for improvements and would welcome your readers’ support.

Robin Jolly, convener, HKUAIT

fly ash residues / Prof Themelis was a member of ENB’s recent expert panle

Study states Fly ash residues 5-20%

Yet the EIA for Shek Kwu Chau uses only 4%

Download PDF : Kalogirou_pdf

Response shows US delegation’s value

I suppose the trip adds to Edward Yau’s frequent flyer points. During his 60 months at ENB he went overseas 59 times hence the state of our air and lack of constructive action against polluting ocean shipping, failure to ban hi sulfur bunker fuel , no Emissions Control Area mandated and other pollution sources left rampant. Failure to legislate source separation of waste etc and Yau still has a highly paid office manager job instead of being charged with Misconduct in Public Office.

Since the CE met Mayor Bloomberg hopefully he learned something, such as the fact that New York City has specifically excluded incineration from its proposed waste treatment plans and New York City has the highest tobacco tax in America. Obviously Mayor Bloomberg cares about New Yorkers’ health, a constructive hint that needs to pass to CY Leung.

South China Morning Post

Published on South China Morning Post (

Home > Response shows US delegation’s value

Response shows US delegation’s value

Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 12:00am


· 197f7e4a8b9a82902129d05bb8ffbad2.jpg

Leung at the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Gary Cheung

Philip Bowring’s article (“Limits of Chinese parochialism”, June 16) questioned the value of the chief executive’s trip to New York last week.

We do not agree that the chief executive “carries no weight and saw no one of significance” and that “time and effort would have been far better spent building Hong Kong’s relations with its neighbours”.

Hong Kong has strong economic ties with the US, which is our second-largest trading partner, after the mainland.

Last year, the total value of our bilateral trade reached almost HK$543 billion. The US is also our second-largest export market and fifth-largest source of imports.

It was therefore important for the chief executive to embark on this trip to promote trade and maintain a strong economic partnership with the US business community. Hong Kong businesses recognised the importance of this visit. Hence, over 200 leading businessmen joined the delegation, including around 40 from Guangdong.

Contrary to Bowring’s suggestion, during this trip the chief executive met different political leaders, financial heavyweights and top-level international business leaders, including the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg; the co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and former secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin; the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, William Dudley; the chief executive officer of the New York Stock Exchange, Duncan Niederauer; Rupert Murdoch from the media sector; Jerry Speyer from the real estate sector; and the top management of some global investment banks.

The chief executive was also the guest of honour at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s trade promotion events, which more than 1,000 people attended. Such huge attendance demonstrates that the US business community attaches great importance to Hong Kong.

Nick Au Yeung, assistant director (media), Chief Executive’s Office


Leung Chun-ying


KEEP CALM and Carry On: PRISM itself is not a big deal

ECHELON_Prism just another form of (electronic 007 ) pollution

Download PDF : ECHELON_Prism

crop news


How to win people’s hearts and minds for GM farming

You +1’d this publicly. Undo

New Scientist18 hours ago

In a carefully crafted speech, UK environment minister Owen Paterson announced that the government would be leading “a more informed 



GM crops are safe, says Owen Paterson – video

You +1’d this publicly. Undo

The Guardian20 Jun 2013

Owen Paterson, the environment minister, says the UK should lead the way in Europe by growing genetically-modified crops