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June 9th, 2012:

Professor’s trips raise questions

SCMP 9/6/2012

Professor’s trips raise questions

Lai See (“Burning question over rubbish trips”, May 26) has revealed that a Baptist University professor who has received a number of research grants from the Environmental Protection Department in recent years and is an advocate of incineration is organising a trip to Taiwan.

This is to be paid for by the Environment and Conservation Fund, on whose funding committee the professor sits.

This visit, together with a similar one to Singapore when 50 people were invited, appears to be a government exercise in “manufacturing consent” (using Noam Chomsky’s phrase for brainwashing).

Does not this report raise the interest of the directorate of audit, and the chancellor of the university, in regard to the use of public funds and academic independence? If not, why not?

S. P. Li, Lantau

Beijing’s condemnation of US pollution figures a smokescreen for dirty air


June 09, 2012

Shooting the messenger is never a good idea, especially when people’s health is at stake. Yet that is what the Chinese government seems intent on doing to US diplomatic missions, which since last year have been issuing data on the smallest and most harmful air pollution particles, PM2.5, in three cities. Deputy Environment Minister Wu Xiaoqing has called for an end to the service, condemning it as a violation of national laws and diplomatic codes of conduct. His criticism is not only unreasonable but unjustified – and worse, ignores the risks posed by poor air in China’s heavily polluted cities.

It was those potential threats to health that prompted first the US embassy in Beijing, and then its consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou, to fill a gap for American expatriates. Informing about PM2.5 particles, which can lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream, is common practice in developed countries, but until this year, not on the mainland or in Hong Kong. Chinese officials have collected PM2.5 data, although not released it, instead issuing information about larger PM10 particles, which makes air readings look better than they really are. In Beijing, that meant results were good or excellent 80 per cent of the time, contrasting sharply with those from the embassy showing just 20 per cent of days as acceptable.

Unsurprisingly, word of the discrepancy got around and became a major topic of discussion on microblogs, embarrassing the central government and prompting it to call on cities to follow suit. There nonetheless has remained a gap in readings, explained away as being down to different standards. But whether those of the World Health Organisation are followed, as the US does, or lower ones are adhered to, the fact remains that numbers alone are not enough. Monitoring and releasing information is pointless unless measures are also taken to make the air healthier. A nation’s success relies on the health of its people. Criticising the United States for highlighting a failing is a smokescreen for grievous inaction.

Legco approves loan to Harrow


Teachers’ union head says it’s wrong to use public money to fund the school and critics see loan as sign of collusion between government and private sector
Ada Lee
Jun 09, 2012

The Legislative Council yesterday approved a HK$273 million interest-free loan to the exclusive Harrow International School for construction of its premises.

The loan is to meet “part of the construction costs of its new school premises” in Tuen Mun, and is part of the government’s commitment to support the international school sector to meet the demand for places for foreign families, according to a government document to the Finance Committee.

But Fung Wai-wah, president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, doubted the legitimacy of using taxpayers’ money to fund the school. Some critics also see the loan as another sign of collusion between the government and the private sector.

Harrow will be the first international school with boarding facilities in Hong Kong. It is expected to accommodate 400 primary and 750 secondary pupils when the first phase of construction is completed. There will be 99 classrooms, a boarding house, swimming pool, fitness room, an outdoor sports field and other facilities, the paper said.

Construction for Harrow’s premises is supposed to be completed by the end of the year. The first phase of the construction is expected to cost HK$878 million.

“As a non-profit-making organisation, [Harrow] can only obtain a bridging loan for the construction of school premises from private or commercial sources with the backing of the government’s interest-free loan,” the government paper said.

“The provision of an interest-free loan to [Harrow], which provides non-local curriculum for the international community in Hong Kong, will help in facilitating the provision of additional international school places to meet the demand.”

But Fung said taxpayers’ money should be used in a better way.

“Although generally speaking, the school is nonprofit, it’s not right to use public money to fund a school with abundant resources.”

He said the lack of international school places in Hong Kong should be alleviated from the root of the problem.

“There are many international schools in Hong Kong. It’s just that some are taken up by local students. We may have to rethink how to allocate those places to those who are really in need.”

The 3.7-hectare site at So Kwun Wat was allocated to the school in 2009, along with three other sites for international schools. Harrow is required to reserve at least half of its places for non-local students. The school’s first batch of HK$600,000 debentures sold out last year.

A report from moving consultant firm Crown Relocations in February found that only two international schools on Hong Kong Island, and four in the New Territories and Kowloon, had vacancies for Primary One pupils. The report surveyed 37 international and English Schools Foundation schools popular with expats.

Government figures show there is growing demand for British curriculum school places, driven by a 35 per cent growth in the British population in Hong Kong in the past five years.

Govt denies treating Harrow generously


The government has dismissed allegations that it has given preferential treatment to Harrow International School.

Local newspapers have speculated that generous offers concerning rent and loans might have been granted under pressure from the Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, because of his son’s romantic relationship with the niece of the director of Harrow’s management company.

The school is being charged a nominal 1-thousand dollars in rent annually, for a site in Tuen Mun that is worth up to 1.4 billion dollars.

Legco’s Finance Committee has just approved a 270-million dollar loan – interest free – for Harrow to build its campus.

But the Undersecretary for Education, Kenneth Chan, said everything was above board and legal.