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July, 2011:

Airlines face soaring claims over fuel fix

South China Morning Post – 21 July 2011

Freight clients urged to sign up with law firms pursuing airlines for damages after European Commission’s finding of collusion in fuel surcharges

Top Asian and western airlines, including Cathay Pacific Airways (SEHK: 0293), Singapore Airlines Cargo and Korean Airlines, will face further pressure from global criminal and civil action over allegations they colluded to fix fuel surcharges on air cargo shipments between 2000 and 2006.

London-based lawyer Anthony Maton will step up that pressure when he begins a visit to Asia this weekend to persuade exporters and importers to lodge compensation claims against 37 airlines which flew cargo between Asia and Europe. They include 11 carriers who were fined €799.5 million (HK$8.8 billion) by the European Commission last year for fixing airfreight surcharges.

Maton, from Hausfeld & Co LLP, said Asian firms, including mainland cargo owners, undoubtedly suffered losses as a result of what he described as cartel-like behaviour by airlines in fixing fuel surcharges. So far more than 300 firms, who paid freight bills totalling at least US$3 billion, have signed up to Hausfeld’s action, but Maton said these numbers “are increasing all the time”.

“We are steadily signing and then joining in batches further claimants to the action,” he said.

Maton said that while most of the airlines were appealing against the European Commission fines, he doubted this would derail the compensation claims.

This view was shared by Peter Koutsoukis, managing director of Claims Funding International, who has launched a separate compensation claim at a court in Amsterdam in the Netherlands against three airlines – Dutch carriers KLM and Martinair and French partner Air France. Claims Funding International has formed a special company, Equilib, to fight the action on behalf of claimants which total at least 330 mainly European companies which spent around €6 billion on airfreight.

Koutsoukis said the three airlines filed a writ in an Amsterdam court asking that other airlines be joined, either as defendants or third parties to the action. These carriers, including Cathay Pacific Airways, have until August 17 to file a defence saying why they should not be included in the action.

Carriers are also facing a slew of legal action in Asia.

In Australia, nine carriers are being prosecuted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for alleged price fixing after six were fined A$41 million (HK$340.7 million). The carriers, including Cathay Pacific, Emirates Airlines, Thai Airways and Garuda, face the latest in a series of directions hearings at Australia’s federal court on August 5. The full trial against all nine carriers is due to start on July 2 next year and last three months.

In New Zealand, the Commerce Commission is taking action against the same group, although Air New Zealand has replaced Garuda.

Commission communications manager Alanah Kalafatelis said the court proceedings were taking place in two stages. The first stage, which focused on the definition of the air cargo market ended in June. She said the second stage of the trial, which was due to start in July 2012 and last about three months, would “address the price fixing arrangements”.

Australian law firm Maurice Blackburn has also launched a class action, financed by litigation funder IMF (Australia), against seven carriers, again including Cathay Pacific Airways, seeking compensation for alleged price fixing on cargo shipments. All seven airlines have filed defences to the action.

Maurice Blackburn principal Brooke Dellavedova said action was taken against the seven carriers even though the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission prosecuted 15 airlines, because “for the most part, they are the carriers with the most significant presence in Australia”.

She said more than 150 businesses had retained Maurice Blackburn to act for them. “We are unable to comment on the size of any overcharge caused by the alleged cartel at this stage,” she said. “However, we expect damages in this matter to be very significant given the large amount of international airfreight to and from Australia.”

Environment law that can’t ease ‘urban canyons’

South China Morning Post – 19 July 2011

The environmental impact assessment is not the magic bullet to solve the city’s woes. At best, it helps keep things from getting worse.

Many people pin so much hope on the law, critics say, that they forget how limited it is in solving our deep-seated environmental problems.

When the law was introduced in 1998, it was designed as a gatekeeper of big development projects – not a tool to promote green policies proactively, like the Air Pollution Control or Waste Disposal ordinances do.

Nor does it apply to all projects. Residential blocks – Hong Kong’s most common form of development – are exempt from the process unless the project has more than 2,000 flats and no sewage network linked to it.

The law is powerless to decide how buildings should be positioned, distanced or shaped, even though Hong Kong suffers from a unique “urban canyon effect”. That issue rests in the hands of the city’s planners and the appointed members of the Town Planning Board.

And the law stops at the border – at a time when major infrastructure projects involve cross-border co-operation. “All we do is to scrutinise if the environmental impacts are acceptable,” said Dr Man Chi-sum, of the Advisory Council on the Environment. “As to why a development is needed is not within the ambit of our power, we have no say at all.”

For instance, Man said, the council was barred from discussing whether Hong Kong needed one or two incinerators, or whether a particular site was superior to another one.

“Most often, the feasibility study of a project is not made public and this prevents people from voicing their views earlier,” said Roy Tam Hoi-pong, president of Green Sense.

Ultimately, a lack of power to question the necessity of a project was limiting the law from realising its goals, said Dr Ng Cho-nam, a veteran environmentalist who teaches environmental impact assessment at the University of Hong Kong.

“If you can’t avoid [a project], you try to reduce [its impact], say, by looking for other options or downsizing the project,” he said. “The last step is mitigation – adopting steps to minimise residual impacts. These principles are widely recognised, though not clearly stated in the law.”

Critics say the environmental protection department is not independent when vetting ecological impact assessments submitted by developers

South China Morning Post – 19 July 2011

Green activists like to joke that environmental impact assessments are “invincible”. They are compiled, tabled, commented upon – but never rejected.

The joke is not far off. Just seven EIAs have been turned down, compared with 162 approved, since the reports were mandated in 1998, according to the latest figures available on the Environmental Protection Department’s website.


Critics say that the biggest reason for this imbalance is that the EPD is not independent enough. It’s a branch of the government – the same government that, in many cases, is seeking an environmental ruling, or is the beneficiary of a positive decision. Since 1998, the government has been the biggest subscriber to the environmental impact assessment process. It filed 123 reports to the EPD for approval, compared with 73 submissions from the private sector, according to the Post’s analysis.

The biggest single client has been the Civil Engineering and Development Department – the government department responsible for new town development, reclamation projects and land formation – which requested 51 reports. Next came the Highways Department with 26 reports and the Drainage Services Department with 22 reports. The EPD itself submitted eight reports; all were approved.

Paul Lam Kwan-sing, a professor specialising in marine life, chairs the Advisory Council on the Environment, which must clear a project before the department approves it. He disagrees that the EIA process is just a rubber stamp. He said that only a few assessment reports were rejected because consultants had sought advice from various government departments as they compiled their reports.

However, he agreed that the system could be improved by forming a pool of international experts who would review the reports and advise council members on the shortcomings of the consultancy studies.

“I believe council members are very committed. But it is difficult for them to comment on technical issues without certain expertise,” Lam said.

An EPD spokesman said the EIA process was objective and transparent, requiring that issues raised by the public and the council were addressed before a decision could be made. But Mike Kilburn, of the think tank Civic Exchange, says there’s a problem, and it goes back six years, to when the top posts at the watchdog were taken over by policy bureau administrators.

“Up until 2005, the director was an environmental scientist, a career scientist who understood the ordinance and the science, but this is no longer the case,” Kilburn said. “The director no longer has his professional judgment as an environmental scientist to rely on.”

Kilburn said the merger blurred the roles of the director and led to conflicts of interest.

“The key role of the director is as a regulator. And when the role of a regulator is combined with the role of somebody whose job is to deliver policy outcome, he has a blurred distinction, which could possibly lead to a conflict of interest, particularly on government projects,” he said.

The problem doesn’t end there.

The consultants who write the EIA studies are hired by the people pushing for projects to be approved.

“The current EIA arrangement is for the project proponent to hire the consultant for the study, and this calls the consultant’s independency into question,” said Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of Friends of the Earth. Most of those consultants hail from a small group of large consulting firms, the Post found. The 196 studies compiled in the past 13 years were produced by approximately 30 firms. Just three of them – ERM Hong Kong, Maunsell Consultants Asia, and Ove Arup – accounted for about 35 per cent of the reports. The same three also accounted for a third of the studies commissioned by the government.

Most of the studies were large-scale projects like power infrastructure, site formation, and rail and road development.

There is no estimate as to how much these firms were paid, because the cost of a study usually depends on the scale of a particular development. The cost estimate is usually buried in the engineering feasibility budget.

While there is no evidence to suggest the consultants would distort their studies to suit their employers, some critics said these big players, with their long experience, can easily get around the EIA requirements with their technical expertise.

“They know well the technical tricks by adopting different modelling methods for their purposes,” said Roy Tam Hoi-pong, president of Green Sense.

Unlike doctors, lawyers or accountants, there are no professional bodies governing the consultants’ qualifications, standards, ethics and discipline. The closest equivalent is the Hong Kong Institute of Environmental Impact Assessment. But it is not a statutory body such as the Medical Council and has only loose control over its members.

Andy Brown, executive director of Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, said there was great room to improve the quality, accountability and professionalism of environmental consultants and transparency of the EIA.

“The EIA report should list all consultants involved, their credentials, exact role, time input, with time and date of surveys provided,” Brown told lawmakers in a recent meeting on the need for an EIA review. At present, reports present the name of the company but not the individuals involved, nor survey details.

Brown says too many studies appear to have been done on the cheap.

“The quality of some of the ecological surveys and assessment can be rather variable,” he said. “This is due to market competition forcing consultants to carry out ecological surveys at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest possible time. There is also the possibility of hiring people without the expertise and experience needed.”

He proposed that the EPD maintain a registry listing professional consultants’ training, expertise and experience.

An independent committee should be set up to provide scientific advice to the Advisory Council on the Environment in scrutinising EIA reports.

The last environmental impact assessment report rejected had nothing to do with Hong Kong. It was the Tonggu Channel dredging project, proposed by the Shenzhen port authority to enable the Shekou container cargo terminal to expand in May 2005. The project was pronounced dead by Keith Kwok Ka-keung, an administrative officer and then the department’s chief.

The rejection, based on the assessment report’s failure to adequately assess the environmental impact and risks to the Chinese white dolphin, came just two months after Dr Rob Law, an environmental scientist, chose to leave the top post after 24 years with the watchdog.

Law was remembered for rejecting the impact assessment of the Lok Ma Chau rail spur line project, which was originally designed to traverse the bird haven at Long Valley, in 2000. The project was proposed by the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, a public-funded body, and managed by a former top official, Yeung Kai-yin.

The current director of environmental protection, Anissa Wong Sean-yee, has not rejected a single one of the more than 70 assessment studies she has handled. A former administrative officer, she took over from Keith Kwok Ka-keung in 2006.

Green law has limited impact

Approval for major works is almost a foregone conclusion despite requirements of 1998 act

Cheung Chi-fai and Olga Wong
Updated on Jul 19, 2011

The Environmental Protection Department has rejected only seven out of 196 environmental impact assessment studies on major construction projects over the past 13 years, according to the latest figures available on its website – prompting critics to question the effectiveness of the law and call for reforms.

When Hong Kong introduced the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance in 1998 , it was hailed as the most important milestone in its environment policy. The ordinance makes it mandatory for major construction projects to go through a process of identifying potential damage to the environment, to engage in public consultation and undergo government experts’ scrutiny before construction can begin.

But the records for the past 13 years tell a different story. Since the law was introduced, the department has rejected seven assessment reports – less than four per cent of the cases it handled. Twenty-seven were withdrawn before the final process and a total of 162 applications were approved.

Details of the seven rejected reports are scarce, but the government is clearly the biggest beneficiary of the low rejection rate, as government projects account for roughly two-thirds of the 196 cases.

Because different countries have different systems to carry out environmental impact assessments, there is no directly comparable foreign experience. But most experts said the rate is “extremely low”.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, president of Green Sense – a group advocating better urban planning – said the problem was inherent in the system, which takes environmental impacts into consideration only at the final stage of decision-making.

“The rejection rate is bound to be low under the existing set-up, in which [government] has already pre-determined a project to be necessary for development [before conducting the assessment]. The EIA process is almost the last step to make that happen. Unless they find there is a risk of massive damage to the environment, an impact study is rarely rejected,” said Tam.

Paul Lam Kwan-sing, chairman of the government’s Advisory Council on the Environment, disagreed.

He said only a few assessment reports were rejected because it was a long process and many issues raised during the assessment were addressed and revised in the final report.

Similarly, “few university theses are failed by examiners, as they have been continuously revised with advice given by professors”, Lam said.

However, he agreed the system could be improved and made more independent by inviting foreign experts to participate.

A spokesman for the Environment Protection Department said the EIA process was strictly governed by law, and stressed that the operation is objective and transparent.

Wildlife group warns of runway risks

Hong Kong Standard, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A third runway may increase carbon emissions by 75 percent when flights connecting the SAR and 14 leading Asia Pacific destinations take off in 22 years, World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong has found.

It urges the Airport Authority to provide more analysis on the impact the third runway would have not only on the Chinese white dolphins but also on the recovery of the marine ecosystem.

“The authority seems able to quantify the potential benefits of the third runway but is strikingly reluctant to inform the public of its true environmental costs,” said Andy Cornish, director of conservation at WWF-Hong Kong.
The projection is based on factors including passenger numbers from published reports of airline trade associations and travel distance between Hong Kong and destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Japan.William Yu Yuen-ping, head of the group’s climate program, estimates that with the third runway, emissions from flights connecting Chek Lap Kok to 14 destinations may jump 75.7 percent to 18.1 million tonnes in 2030, from 10.3 million tonnes in 2008.

The group also assumed that fuel efficiency will increase by about 20 percent from 2020 with the advancement in technology.

Yu said the emissions could at least double if long-haul flights are also calculated.

Cornish said members met with the authority on Thursday asking for more information on potential environmental impact but the authority declined their request.

WWF will today at the Legislative Council’s panel of economic development demand a halt to the consultation exercise.

A spokesman for the authority said it remains committed to completing the consultation on September 2 as scheduled.

Runway means more noise, poll reveals

South China Morning Post – 18 July 2011

Green group took readings on roofs and found noise levels similar to a busy road

The severe noise pollution caused by aircraft flying throughout the night across north Lantau and the New Territories will get worse if a third runway is built, say concerned residents.

The average noise level of planes passing over Ma Wan, Sham Tseng and Tsuen Wan between 11pm and 3am throughout the week hit about 70 decibels, similar to the level of a busy road, according to a survey conducted by Green Sense last week. The readings were taken on the roofs of residential buildings.

The environmental group claimed the survey was first of its kind carried out by a non-governmental body.

“With the present noise problem unresolved, it is unreasonable to construct a third runway and expand the noise pollution affected area,” said Jan Lai Ming-chuen, vice-president of Green Sense.

As the proposed third runway would be built in Chek Lap Kok north, it was expected that Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun residents would also have to bear with loud aircraft noise, said Professor Chan King-ming, director of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s environmental sciences programme. He suggested the government expand existing runways instead.

Residents of Ma Wan complained that aircraft noise had become more severe, disturbing their sleep and forcing them to keep their windows shut most of the time.

“How can you sleep peacefully with noise like a busy road next to you?” said Lam Wai-man, chairman of the owners’ committee of Park Island private housing estate in Ma Wan. He said the noise was loud enough to shake a ceiling.

In 1999, a year after the Hong Kong International Airport started operation, there was only one case of aircraft noise above 80 decibels recorded at night over Ma Wan throughout the year. In 2007, the number of cases had jumped to more than 300, said Lam, citing Civil Aviation Department figures.

Ma Wan was not included in the area affected by aircraft noise “beyond acceptable level”, according to the Airport Authority. However, the assessment was made in 1998.

The Airport Authority said last night it had a noise ceiling for the airport and so far the levels were below that standard. The authority met residents’ representatives in Ma Wan in July and agreed to set up a group to look at ways of further reducing the noise.

No smooth ride for biodiesel

South China Morning Post – 18 July 2011

A plant in Tseung Kwan O should have been running last year, but work has been suspended; sector faces obstacles, including lack of government support

Wan Po Road, or at least its English rendering – Environmental Protection Road – seems like a contradiction in terms to those living and working in the Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate to which the road leads.

Neither will the irony of the name be lost on commuters who have to suffer intermittent whiffs from nearby landfills as they travel to and from the estate.

But the same road also leads to a genuine environmental protection industry player hoping to open for business in the estate – a company that has undertaken to turn used cooking oil into biodiesel, which is far cleaner than petroleum diesel.

Unfortunately, the plant’s construction has been suspended, with no official indication of when it will resume.

Hong Kong’s biodiesel producers, who use waste cooking oil as feedstock, say it is difficult to make a profit because of the lack of active government support for such initiatives. The Hong Kong government has set a goal to cut the city’s carbon emission intensity by up to 60 per cent by 2020, but is relying on the greater use of nuclear power to cut its carbon footprint – despite safety concerns raised in Japan after the deadly March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

According to a subcontractor for the project and security guards who declined to be identified, ASB Biodiesel (Hong Kong) has stopped work on a partially-built plant capable of churning out 100,000 tonnes of biodiesel annually.

It is not clear exactly when work stopped. A guard at the 18,000 square metre site said no work had been carried out for several months, while a guard at the entrance to a neighbouring building said it was more like a year since work ended.

No construction workers were seen during two visits to the site by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcements,news) on separate week days this month.

According to the final environmental impact assessment report by Environmental Resources Management for ASB in October 2008, construction on the plant was supposed to start in March 2009 and be completed in April last year. After trial runs, commercial production was slated for a June 2010 start.

When ASB chief executive Tom Uiterwaal was interviewed early last year, he said construction was expected to be completed by the end of last year. He declined to comment when asked about the delays and the company’s latest plans.

A person familiar with the company’s operation, who declined to speak on the record, claimed the project would resume construction within two months, and that biodiesel production was expected to start by the end of next year, but he would not elaborate.

He also declined to comment on talk among industry executives that construction was halted because of a lack of funding due to a deteriorating profit outlook for the biodiesel industry internationally, and tightened liquidity in the wake of the global financial crisis.

According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, only 10 biodiesel plants were operating last year, despite 29 having been built. A lack of overseas demand and high palm oil prices were blamed.

ASB’s project is funded mainly by the Middle East’s Al Salam Bank-Bahrain and six unidentified strategic partners.

Uiterwaal said early last year that the US$100 million plant would use technology from Austria, which enabled it to use multiple feedstocks, including waste cooking oil, grease trap waste collected from caterers, animal fat, and palm fatty acid distillate – a byproduct from the refining of crude palm oil.

ASB last year hired legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who represents the restaurant trade, as a consultant.

The European Union has led the world in policy support for the sector, requiring at least 5.75 per cent of all fuel sold to be biofuel – biodiesel or ethanol – rising to 8 per cent in 2015 and 10 per cent in 2020.

Within Asia, Hong Kong lags behind countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand, in policy initiatives to encourage biodiesel consumption.

Biodiesel is generally more expensive than petroleum diesel, and requires large-scale production and consumption to be economical. To be truly emission-light, local sourcing of feedstock and local consumption of biodiesel is encouraged.

In some developed nations, restaurants pay biodiesel makers to get rid of waste cooking oil, but in Hong Kong, biodiesel makers have to pay for used oil, competing with traders who sell it to mainland recyclers for reprocessing into cooking oil. Consumption of such re-used oil is known to raise the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Beijing issued a policy circular a year ago ordering local governments to step up their fight against rampant illegal trading and recycling of cooking oil.

“Based on my estimation, over 80 per cent of Hong Kong’s used cooking oil taken away by collectors is sold to the mainland for reprocessing into cooking oil,” said Teddy Choi Wai-hung, executive director of Champway Technology which operates a biodiesel plant in the EcoPark in Tsuen Mun that can produce 20,000 tonnes of biodiesel annually.

Since it is not illegal to export waste cooking oil out of Hong Kong, and extremely difficult to tell reprocessed oil from previously unused oil without laboratory testing, it is difficult to fight the trade, said Choi.

Furthermore the trade is lucrative since used oil costs around HK$4,500 a tonne to buy and can fetch some HK$7,500 after processing. Fresh cooking oil costs anywhere from HK$10,000 to HK$20,000 a tonne, Choi said.

Champway’s plant has only produced around 4,000 tonnes since it started operating in April last year, due to difficulties in sourcing enough affordable waste oil, according to Choi.

“Our operation is very difficult to run, given that waste cooking oil prices have been bid up to over HK$50 per 18 litres currently from just HK$20 a year ago,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to recoup the plant’s HK$60 million investment without more government support.

To encourage proper disposal of waste cooking oil, he said the government should implement a licensing system for collectors of used cooking oil, and restaurants that sell their oil to such authorised dealers should be given a reduction in their waste water treatment surcharge currently collected by the Water Supplies Department.

Steve Choi, an executive director of Sha Tin-based Dynamic Progress International, the first firm in Hong Kong to set up a biodiesel plant three years ago, said the government should abolish an import levy on methanol, which accounts for 11 per cent of the content of biodiesel.

The levy amounts to around 50 HK cents for each litre of biodiesel made, he said. Each litre of petroleum diesel retails for around HK$11 to HK$12.

According to the annual report of its listed parent Alltronics Holdings, Dynamic posted a net loss of HK$6 million last year, down from a HK$8.4 million loss in 2009.

Steve Choi said the government should also be more proactive in promoting biodiesel by becoming a user itself.

“I hope the government would push for an earlier timetable for its departments in becoming biodiesel users,” he said. “The commercial sector has already made some moves, it is about time the government took some baby steps to promote biodiesel usage.”

So far private sector users mainly use biodiesel out of corporate social responsibility considerations as it is more expensive than petroleum diesel.

Asia Airfreight Terminal (AAT), which runs an air cargo terminal at Hong Kong International Airport, started buying biodiesel from Dynamic last November.

“Our company adopted biodiesel mainly for the fulfillment of our corporate social responsibilities,” said Wilson Cheung, AAT’s general manager of support services.

The company, which has a diesel bill of around HK$1.5 million a year, has now replaced almost all of its fossil fuel diesel consumption with biodiesel, except for its stand-by power generator, which is rarely used.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club said it had provided waste oil to Dynamic and bought biodiesel for some of its water-carrying trucks and power generators.

An Environmental Protection Bureau spokesman said the bureau was consolidating views from a public consultation on how to mitigate climate change, including how to promote clean fuels, including biofuels.

The government is also planning a tender for the supply of diesel with a blend of 5 per cent biodiesel made from waste oil, for a one-year pilot scheme. A source familiar with the situation said the government aims to roll out the scheme by mid-2012.

Bag levy has made things worse, industry says

South China Morning Post – 18 July 2011

Manufacturers find overall use of plastic has gone up since introduction of the charge two years ago

The plastic-bag levy introduced two years ago has not helped protect the environment – in fact, the overall use of plastic has risen because of it, according to a manufacturers’ group.

Although the use of conventional plastic bags had been on the decline, that of reusable bags, wrongly thought to have less plastic, had soared, said the Hong Kong Plastic Bags Manufacturers’ Association.

The rise in the use of garbage bags, reusable bags – also called non-woven bags – and free plastic bags used in supermarkets for fruit and vegetables has increased overall plastic use by almost 30 per cent, according to the association’s study.

Its survey of plastic-bag companies last month found that although the use of conventional plastic shopping bags had dropped by about 70 per cent, that of almost all other bags, some wrongly thought to be environmentally friendly, had risen markedly. For instance, the use of garbage bags has increased by more than 60 per cent since the plastic-bag levy came into effect in July 2009.

The association’s vice-president Eric Lau Chi-leung said the increase in garbage bags was probably due to people no longer using plastic shopping bags for their trash, while the use of non-woven bags has almost.

“These so-called environment-friendly, reusable bags are made of plastic. But the government has not done enough to inform the public about this,” Lau said yesterday. “That’s why although we now have had the plastic-bag levy in place for two years, the amount of plastic we have used in bags has in fact increased by 27 per cent,” he said.

“Yes, we have done more business and made more money because of this trend. But we cannot let money blind our care for the environment.”

Reusable bags contain about 30 to 50 times as much plastic as conventional ones, and are more difficult to break down, and hence are more destructive to the environment, he said.

The association urged the government not to raise the current levy of 50 HK cents per bag to maintain its disincentive effect because that would fuel inflation. Lau suggested it should teach people to reuse the plastic bags they had.

A spokesman for the Environment Bureau said that was already being done, and its landfill survey had found that only 0.4 per cent of bags were non-woven ones.

He said 75 per cent of shoppers did not get plastic bags from registered shops, and since the levy most Hongkongers had supported the scheme and taken their own bags when shopping. “We are currently consulting the public on whether to expand the scheme so that a levy will be imposed when shops give away non-woven bags,” he said.

Before the levy’s introduction at 3,000 registered stores, plastic-bag manufacturers had worried that the industry would be hurt. Instead they have found that making reusable bags is more profitable.

Government accused of jumping gun on site sale

South China Morning Post, 18 July 2011

Activists say preparations to sell wing of HQ have started before its future is discussed by planners

Green activists and a conservation group accused the government of treating the Town Planning Board as a rubber stamp and said it had started making preparation to sell the west wing of the Central Government Offices, even though the board was still considering the site’s future.

Campaigners to preserve the government headquarters building said the move showed “sheer disregard for the town planning process and public efforts to preserve the integrity of the historic Government Hill”.

But the Development Bureau said the move was “no more than a preliminary preparation.”

It is not clear if the government had also made preparations to sell other sites before the Town Planning Board made its final decision.

But a former board vice-chairman, Dr Greg Wong Chak-yan, said he had not heard of such a practice before.

The board meets next month to hear a proposal by activists to keeping the Government Hill site intact. It will look at a government plan to demolish the west wing in October.

Town Planning Board member Laurence Li Lu-jen last night refused to comment, saying he wanted to hear both sides of the argument first.

Environmental activist Melanie Moore said she wrote to the authorities asking for trees on the site to be retained. She received a written reply from the government on June 27, in which it said: “As the proposed land sale conditions for the site are still being drafted, we are not in a position to advise on any further details of the conditions.”

Moore believed that indicated that the government had already started to prepare for the sale of the land. She expressed disappointment over the move.

“The government has not released the full result of the November 2010 public consultation,” she said. “After the 1881 Heritage fiasco, the public is tired of government’s pre-ordained deals with property developers to destroy our heritage sites and greenery,” she added, referring to the former Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui, which became a complex of high-end shops and restaurants under a deal with developer Cheung Kong (SEHK: 0001).

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of lobby group The Professional Commons and a member of the Government Hill Concern Group that is fighting to keep the site intact, accused the government of jumping the gun and treating the Town Planning Board as a rubber stamp.

The group also demanded that the board meeting be chaired by someone who was not a development or planning official, saying it was a potential conflict of interest.

The chairman of the Town Planning Board is permanent secretary for development Thomas Chow Tat-ming, whose bureau is pushing forward the redevelopment plan.

But Greg Wong said he disagreed with Lai. “The board can’t control what the civil servants do. By the same token, what the government is doing internally has no impact on the board members’ decision.”

He said if the case for preserving the west wing was strong, he would support it.

How much is Airport Authority spending to promote third runway?

South China Morning Post – 16 July 2011

The Airport Authority is obviously prepared to plough every furrow to disseminate its message that it will be the end of civilisation as we know it if its very costly plan to build a third runway is not given the green light.

We are bombarded from morning to night by adverts, commercials, letters to the media and banners lauding the benefits the project will bring to Hong Kong.

However, as Peter Lok Kung-nam, former head of the Civil Aviation Department, rightly pointed out (“Sky-high marketing for runway plan kept secret”, July 3), this media campaign by the authority is being carried out at a cost of millions of dollars to the public purse.

It is only recently that the airport has begun to make a return on the public money invested in its construction – cynics might question if this is coincidental with a new call for funds – and now revenue is being frittered away on an over-the-top promotion campaign.

Not only will the community forfeit substantial dividend returns, but there are also ethical considerations that need to be explored.

Is it acceptable that a publicly funded body spends considerable sums to promote its plans without allocating at least a percentage of the budget to publicise at the same time intelligent and legitimate views on the negative aspects of its plans?

Misuse of public funds is a very sensitive issue at the moment, as the government tries to ram through its proposed legislation to block resignations from the geographical constituencies in the Legislative Council. Its justification is the HK$150 million spent on the midterm “referendum” election that took place last year.

There are many in the community who believe that marketing campaigns like that for the airport and the MTR Corporation’s blitz for the express rail link are an even greater waste of public funds. The taxpayer has a right to know how much has been spent on these publicity drives.

At the same time, if there is not already such a mechanism in place, then there is an urgent need to ensure that the views of the “minority shareholders” are accorded the same rights to media promotion as those of the board, to ensure that the revenues of statutory bodies engaged in commercial activities are spent in an equitable manner.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan