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April 19th, 2012:

Getting Our Priorities Right – Cleaner Air in Hong Kong

18 April 2012

Recently in the South China Morning Post there has been a discussions about the issue of air quality in Hong Kong. It pointed out that the strange thing about Hong Kong’s poor air quality is that a lot of people are relatively unconcerned about it or express a lack of understanding about the source of our poor air quality. This is odd because since the Hong Kong SARS episode a decade ago, there has been a heightened awareness about health and hygiene among the population and yet even with the evidence of the negative impact of bad air quality on health widely, there is still a lack of understanding or concern.

The research available on the impact of poor air quality on public health is quite daunting. The Hedley Environmental Index estimated that the average annual number of avoidable deaths attributable to air pollution over the past five year is 3,200 which equates to a total of 16,000 avoidable deaths in Hong Kong over the past five years alone. Compare this with the figure provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) which pointed that there have been 341 deaths worldwide from bird flu since 2003 and a total of 913 deaths from SARS, the impact of bad air quality on public health in Hong Kong are profound. We seem to have got our priorities wrong. As a Bloomberg article pointed out last month, currently harbouring an unlicensed duck in Hong Kong carried 50 times the penalty from driving a vehicle belching smoky fumes.

In addition to the number of avoidable deaths attributed to air pollution, there is also an economic cost. The Hedley Environmental Index estimated that the tangible cost of health-care and lost productivity in 2011 was HK$3.89 billion while the total economic loss was estimated to be HK$42.45 billion. Bad air quality also hinders companies in Hong Kong to attract and retain talent. A report conducted by office supplier, Regus, revealed last year that three quarters of companies in Hong Kong saw pollution as a problem in recruiting and retaining international talent. Similarly, a survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found that nearly half of its members knew of professional people who had left because of bad air quality. Also, Hong Kong is known as having one of the most beautiful skylines in the world and yet, there has only been 21 clear days this year to enjoy this, which further adds salt to the wound.

Whilst bad air quality is often blamed on the pollutants from the Pearl River Delta, local street pollution is an even more worrying culprit given its higher concentration in built-up areas. This creates a “street canyon effect” where it traps air pollutants and mixes it with local emissions from vehicles on the streets. Although the Government has introduced the early retirement of Euro II commercial diesel vehicles last year as way to reduce emission from vehicles, the pace at which this scheme is adopted is slow. There are still more than half of our buses that are the Euro II standard or earlier and they emit 1.5 times as much particulate matter as Euro III standard buses and 12.5 times as much as Euro V. Surely, there should be more of an urgency to push more off the road given the impact that they have on public health. Similarly, the outdated 25 years old Air Quality Objectives are badly out of sync with the air quality guidelines published by the WHO should be revised more swiftly in order to accurately inform public of the air quality in Hong Kong and translate this into health risk.

Whether you are worried about the impact that bad air quality has on your health or you are a company wanting to attract or retain talent or you would just like to have more days to enjoy our skyline, we all have a vested interest to improve air quality in Hong Kong. Improving air quality should surely receive the attention as it would if this was a disease like SARS and bird flu that was killing 3,200 annually. Let’s get our priorities right.

Chan’s blueprint for Leung

Mary Ma

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A political think tank close to chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying convened a seminar this week.

As expected, he was showered with praise by the speakers. His supporters – including Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong central committee member Lau Kwok- fan, Executive Council member Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, and businessman Bernard Charnwut Chan – took turns explaining why they backed Leung.

Most exciting of all was the barrage of comments made by Hang Lung Group chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, co- founder of the think tank Hong Kong Development Forum.

First, Chan defended the proposal during the Tung Chee-hwa era to provide 85,000 flats a year.

Then, he smacked the big developers by warning them the good times of making exorbitant profits are over.

Next, that society would become more equal. And finally, he spoke of reconciliation – as this is the mission Beijing assigned to Leung.

Given their 30-year friendship, Chan’s words may provide clues as to what will likely happen during Leung’s regime.

First point: Chan insisted the intent of the 85,000 flats a year policy was absolutely correct and, if anyone was to be held responsible for today’s housing woes, it should be current Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

Chan lashed Tsang for not only being “wrong,” but also “foolish” in suspending land auctions after taking over from Tung in 2005.

While clearly trying to absolve Leung of blame, Chan could also be paving the way for the provision of a great amount of new housing supply.

Second point: party’s over for big developers. Chan said they will still be able to make money – only not exorbitant profits – after reaping fortunes for decades. He suspects the big developers don’t like Leung because it seemsnobody can bribe or intimidate the next chief executive. Taken together with Leung’s lightning move to reduce the maternity hospital quota for mainland women without permanent SAR resident husbands to “zero,” it likely implies that land supply and other housing policies will be very aggressive, with action happening sooner than expected.

Third point: an equal society. Leung’s core supporter is confident that people from different walks of life would become more equal under the new leadership.

I hope Chan’s prognostications will prove correct, but I’m concerned that government policies will become more populist than ever, as the new administration seeks to compete with the opposition to appease the masses.

Last point: reconciliation. In Chan’s view, it’s a mission as impossible as asking Taiwan’s pan-blue camp to cooperate with the pan-green front. The chances for a pan-reconciliation would be “zero” and “none” if political beliefs remain gulfs apart.

But wasn’t this comment intriguing? While it may be true, it certainly contravened the overriding purpose of reconciliation.

Perhaps, Chan was also trying to remind Leung not to forget his supporters, as he seeks to woo his foes

Tsang rejects ‘lame duck’ tag

19 April 2012


Tanna Chong
12:26pm, Apr 19, 2012

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen denied his government was a “lame duck”, saying it played a role in shaping his successor’s “zero” quota on mainlanders giving birth at private hospitals.

His remarks on Thursday morning came after the blunt declaration by chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying that the quota for private hospitals to accept pregnant mainlanders should be “zero” next year. Mainland mothers who still manage to give birth in Hong Kong would “very likely” not gain permanent residency for their children.

Tsang said Leung’s “zero” quota, announced on Monday, was reached during discussions between the incoming and outgoing administrations.

”Policies before July 1 are my government’s matter. Those after July 1 are decided by Mr Leung. The ones overlapping July 1 should be discussed by both administrations,” said Tsang at the airport on Thursday morning, after returning from official (pre retirement holiday First Class) visits to New Zealand, Chile and Brazil.

“My government [is not] a lame duck,” he quacked (said).

Leung’s comments raised questions about whether the current government had been fully informed about them – especially Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, who had been expected to reduce the quota from 31,000. On Wednesday Chow rejected the suggestion that he had “knelt down” to Leung on the issue.

Tsang said there was no transition problem between his administration and Leung’s. “I have the same target with Leung in ensuring a smooth transition of the two administrations. It is of the utmost priority for my government,” said Tsang. “We maintain constant communication .”

With the Legislative Council set to debate a vote of no confidence against Tsang, over his acceptance of entertainment from tycoon friends, the chief executive said he would “listen humbly to the citizens’ and lawmakers’ views”.

Funding call for waste burner


Edward Yau faces an uphill task in trying to convince lawmakers to approve the HK$15 billion needed to build controversial incinerator off Shek Kwu Chau
Cheung Chi-fai, Peter So and Tanna Chong
Apr 19, 2012

The environment minister is in last-ditch lobbying to reverse opposition to his bureau’s request for HK$15 billion to build a waste incinerator – a plan about which even pro-government lawmakers have reservations.

Edward Yau Tang-wah (pictured) has been working hard over the past two days – ahead of a meeting of the Legislative Council’s environment panel tomorrow – to convince lawmakers that the HK$15 billion facility off Shek Kwu Chau is essential.

The panel meeting is crucial to a decision whether the funding requests will go to the public works subcommittee as scheduled in May and the finance committee in June.

Yau also plans to seek HK$8.3 billion for landfill extensions in Tseung Kwan O and Ta Kwu Ling, and HK$33 million for a feasibility study on expansion of another in Tuen Mun.

If the requests are delayed or rejected, the decade-long debate on the incinerator could go back to square one after the election of the new legislature in September. Further doubts have been cast by a pledge by chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying, before his election, to review the role of incineration.

The incinerator is due to open in 2018, by which time all the landfills, without extensions, will have run out of space.

While Yau says Leung has not deviated from the direction of the current administration, the pan-democrats, citing the next leader’s remarks, doubt the continuity of the present waste policy.

“It doesn’t make any sense [going ahead] if the next chief executive says we don’t need an incinerator,” Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said. Party members met senior environment officials on Tuesday but were unhappy with the responses on site selection, safety and emissions standards, and waste separation and reduction policies.

The Democratic Party’s Lee Wing-tat said he doubted that incineration was a desirable way to resolve the waste problem.

Even the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which met Yau last night, had reservations.

“The incinerator might be a necessary evil but it should not be considered until waste reduction at source is adequately done,” said the party’s spokesman on environmental affairs, Gary Chan Hak-kan.

Lawmaker Ip Wai-ming, from the Federation of Trade Unions, plans to abstain from voting on the issue, saying the union group believed officials had misplaced priorities on waste strategy.

The only party that supports waste burning is the Liberals. But the party, with three votes, will not support landfill extensions, its leader Miriam Lau Kin-yee said.

Asked if Leung favoured the funding request, a spokeswoman for the Chief Executive-Elect’s office only said they were having “ongoing communication” with the current Chief Executive’s Office on various issues.