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December 7th, 2011:

Costly bonfire plan lays waste to wealth of viable alternatives to burning problem

South China Morning Post – Dec. 7, 2011

After several years of considering how to deal with Hong Kong’s domestic waste, the government has come up with a plan to spend billions of dollars to set fire to it. Despite abundant counterarguments and various alternatives, the government seems determined to continue with the plan. But why?

Why spend perhaps HK$17 billion or more on first one and then a second mega-incinerator, in the process damaging a fishery, severely affecting endangered species and creating a monstrosity by Shek Kwu Chau – in an area the government had earmarked for conservation and leisure tourism, only to build expensive bonfires that will spew toxic emissions and leave poison ash, but will do little to solve our pressing waste problems?

The Environmental Protection Department is spearheading the environmentally destructive plans, and citing Singapore as an example of a place using incinerators. Yet it fails to mention this will not be a long-term solution for Singapore, and incineration is falling out of favour in places such as Britain, where there is a trend towards anaerobic digestion of organic waste, which can produce compost and energy. The advantages of the process include no toxic emissions, so digesters need not be far-flung.

Toronto is striving to avoid waste incineration. After having success with anaerobic digestion – in which bacteria disintegrate waste in an oxygen-free environment – the city is now building an additional facility. Should Hong Kong build enough of these plants to treat all our food waste, the cost would be around HK$7.4 billion – so around HK$10 billion less than the government’s big bonfire plan.

What to do with the “remaining” money? It could be used for wholehearted efforts to promote less waste, and more recycling with far more vigour than the wishy-washy attempts to date. Perhaps burning of some form could still be useful, but this could be tackled by Green Island Cement’s proposed eco- co-combustion system, or maybe plasma waste conversion.

With other alternatives, including turning domestic waste into jet fuel – which British Airways and Qantas are supporting – Hongkongers should again ask: why is the government so dead-set on the bonfires plan? In the absence of convincing answers, there might be suspicions that the mega-incinerator proposal is at least partly another way of creating jobs for the boys in the construction industry. It’s certainly not the best way to tackle Hong Kong’s waste.

Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors

Loophole remains in top job election

South China Morning Post – Dec. 7, 2011

Foreign organisations will help choose committee to select chief executive – despite vow to amend laws and bar overseas groups from local politics

A loophole that gives foreign organisations a vote in Sunday’s poll for members of the committee that will choose the next chief executive remains unplugged – more than a year after the government promised to amend the law.

The Queensland Government Office in Hong Kong and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce are among the 249,499 voters who will cast their ballots on Sunday for delegates to the Election Committee, which will choose the city’s next chief executive on March 25.

The two bodies will vote in the commercial subsector – one of the 38 functional constituencies whose representatives will form the 1,200-member committee. It is a vote in which most of the city’s seven million inhabitants will be mere spectators.

In October last year the government promised that it would amend laws to bar international bodies from voting in the functional constituency polls. At the time, the then secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Stephen Lam Sui-lung, said that foreign groups should not take part in local politics as a matter of principle.

But a list of the final registered voters for the commercial subsector, seen by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583,announcementsnews) , shows that the two foreign bodies are still included. Neither the Queensland Government Office in Hong Kong nor the Austrian Chamber of Commerce was available for comment. The constitutional bureau said that under the laws, consulates and some foreign groups are not eligible to vote, but it would not say if the two bodies fall within those provisions.

The voter list also includes groups that are clearly not commercial entities – including the pest management academic society and the University of Hong Kong’s business faculty.

Political academics said such inclusions show the government has failed in its duty of gate-keeping. They said such flaws were inherent in the system and could not be properly fixed short of universal suffrage.

“It is unfair and is a long-standing problem. But given the political atmosphere at present, it could further anger the public,” said Sung Lap-kung from City University.

Controversies in the recent district council polls have put the city’s electoral system under scrutiny and triggered widespread public debate.

Even when universal suffrage is introduced for choosing the chief executive in 2017, a nominating body similar to the Election Committee will still be responsible for selecting the candidates to stand in the poll.

Another loophole was found in the education subsector of the committee, where the lack of an effective system to update voters’ information allows people who have retired from teaching or changed their profession to vote in Sunday’s internal election.

The Professional Teachers’ Union chairman Fung Wai-wah said the system required those who had left the profession to deregister themselves because the education bureau did not have a system in place to update its information.