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July 6th, 2012:

Beijing gives Tsang a slap in the face Tsang’s Beijing slap in face

Mickey Mao

So when Tsang is charged by ICAC with misconduct in public office will Beijing be offering any bouquets? Likewise Henry Tang. Both abused their positions whilst in public office. Tang prima facie also cheated the Rating and Valuation Department out of rates for years – that’s fraud isn’t it? He ‘handed over ’house 7 (the basementgate house) to his wife – yet the Government rates bill still jointly covers both house 5A and 7 York Road – he missed that one.
Why did Tsang do nothing about the Environment – is HK Mayor CY Leung’s offering an office manager job to Edward Yau a sign that Yau has ‘sold the ranch’ on who was guilty of environmental prevarication for 5 years? There can be no other reason for employing the former environment minister with the worst failed portfolio.
And the belching diesel old Euro II buses – why was nothing done when Clean Air Zones in the worst polluted areas could have been mandated? Would that be anything to do with the fact retired Chief Secretary Rafael Hui reportedly sat on the board of KMB and retired Commissioner of Police , Tsang’s brother Tsang Yam Pui, sits on the board of Citybus and New World First Bus? The cost per head for a commercially lease-able 8 seat private jet to Phuket is US$ 11,800 – so Tsang was with his wife and everyone forgets the police minder who accompanied him everywhere – that’s US$ 35,000 and Tsang told everyone he paid for TWO Dragonair economy tickets (HKD 2900 per head) to the jet owner – I wonder who paid the hotel rooms including his police minder? – as can be seen from his abuse of public funds on overseas trips Tsang likes his US$ 8,000 a night rooms in Brazil and Washington whilst as a city mayor he earned far more than Barack Obama. This Tsang admission however leaves the jet owner with a problem since he does not have a commercial aircraft licence like CX or Dragonair. If he took Tsang’s money and cashed the cheque (what do you think?) he has a problem – if he didn’t then Tsang got a freebie for his threesome group. Given that police officers and other public officials have been charged and convicted with misconduct in public office for accepting far lower discounts there appears to be a major prima facie case against Tsang. No doubt the ICAC is looking into the Singapore Property Guru online report that Tsang’s apartment in Futian was to be ‘free’ and his free helicopter ride in Phuket, association with triad linked junket persona in Macau and a free hotel suite there. Strange that he was reported as staying on Joseph Lau’s boat in Macau in February (who now has a serious date with the criminal court there) then hitched a lift back on the Sunseeker of Charles Ho, owner of HK Tobacco Co Ltd just 2 weeks after there was no tobacco tax increase in the Budget.  See More ……

o   The reign of Donald Tsang summarised nicely in one single article.

Beijing gives Tsang a slap in the face
By Augustine Tan

HONG KONG – Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the second chief executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, stepped down from office over the weekend after serving seven years without getting a time-honored sinecure from the central government of China. In the context of Chinese culture, that’s a slap in the face.

By comparison, his predecessor Tung Chee-hwa, though retired somewhat disgracefully, was given an honorary status of a “state leader” – vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Some observers point out that there may be a grace period before Beijing makes its final decision on whether and how to reward Tsang for his seven years of service. But it is almost certain that the central leadership is much less happy and satisfied with Tsang’s service than with Tung’s.

In any case, on the day he officially stepped down, Tsang still had to stay around to hear President Hu Jintao pointedly tell his successor Leung Chun-ying to run “a clean and efficient” government in Hong Kong.

Since the integrity of Hong Kong’s leaders has never been challenged before and corruption in government was never a public issue until recently, this was clearly regarded as a matter of grave concern.

Beijing may yet throw a sop at Tsang, but there’s no doubt that the central government has judged Tsang’s administration of Hong Kong and found him wanting.

Seven years of Tsang’s stewardship has left Hong Kong more divided, and more lopsided in its division of wealth since Britain handed its “Pearl of the Orient” back to China.

Tsang undoubtedly was aware of Beijing’s assessment. When he stepped out of his official residence, Government House, just before midnight on Sunday, his bow-tie firmly in place, a painful smile frozen on his face, he looked as if he were walking the last stretch to the guillotine. It was that grim.

The final weeks of his administration were most unlike any other run-up to a change in administration. Some of his key people were busy undermining his successor in public. Every day brought a fresh “expose” about “illegal structures” in Leung’s house on Victoria Peak. Every expose brought fresh demands that Leung “step down” even before his taking office. And every fresh demand sparked questions about Leung’s ability to manage Hong Kong.

It was not lost on pro-Beijing Hongkongers that Tsang and most of his officials, in close partnership with the property tycoons, had strenuously supported Henry Tang Ying-yen, the former chief secretary for administration, for the chief-executive succession in March. The front-runner until the final few weeks and long regarded as Beijing’s candidate, Tang was thrashed by Leung.

Tang was floored by exposes of his infidelities, his illegally constructed basement “palace” in his villa home at Kowloon Tong, and for spinelessly pushing his wife forward to take the blame for some of his wrongdoings.

During the election campaign there were exposes and counter-exposes. Donald Tsang’s support of Tang brought out into the open a slew of questionable dealings the former had with several tycoons, including a sweetheart deal for a luxury retirement apartment in Shenzhen, and various other examples of high living and traveling at public expense.

His supporters and officials saw the exposes as Beijing-instigated punishment for interfering in a selection process that is a monopoly of the central government.

Tsang went to the Legislative Council several times to apologize for his shortcomings. But detractors noted that corruption had dogged Tsang even earlier. They included the offer of a government cash coupon for those who switched to energy-saving light bulbs, which ostensibly benefited an in-law.

Over the past few years many people, especially those in the pro-Beijing camp, have asked whether there was any correlation between Tsang’s proximity to the property tycoons and the almost total absence of housing development for the lower-income groups. Not until his final year in office was any land released for low-cost housing. Instead, the Home Ownership Scheme originally set up to provide housing for the middle class was declared a “failure” and ordered to surrender its holdings – for private development.

The scheme was revived last year at the instigation of Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council, China’s cabinet.

It was a rare instance of direct intervention by the central government. According to a member of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Tsang had threatened to resign over thorny issues on several occasions.

“Now everything has come to an end, and CY [Leung] will take over; it’s all about revenge … Somebody has to pay for one candidate’s loss. There’s going to be a lot more in the coming months,” the NPC member added.

The campaign against Leung morphed into one of the largest ever anti-government, anti-Beijing protest marches in Hong Kong since 2003, with more than 100,000 marching from Victoria Park to the new government headquarters in Admiralty to demand Leung’s departure – just a few hours after he was sworn in by President Hu on Sunday.

While the central government may not be overly concerned about such demonstrations, it is entirely a different matter when it comes to divisions within the pro-Beijing camp. And the property tycoons have been very much an integral part of that camp. Others like NPC Standing Committee member Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, the former president of the Legislative Council who seriously wanted to run for the chief executive’s post but found no supporters from within the pro-Beijing camp, have also been taking swings at Leung.

The attacks against Leung have since the weekend extended to officials he has selected to be part of his government. His choices have been described as lightweight, inexperienced and worse.

Tsang’s supporters, if not Tsang himself, have been very active in promoting the rift. With Legislative Council elections scheduled for September, it is unlikely that Beijing will take its eyes off Hong Kong in the coming months.

Leung’s attempt to get the Legislative Council to approve his plan to revamp the government shortly before he took office was defeated by one vote. This showed how precarious his position – and that of the central government – can be if the division within the pro-Beijing camp is allowed to fester.

The slap in the face for Donald Tsang may be just the beginning – and the easiest step to take. More difficult might be calming the tycoons, who may just be mad enough to want to take their fight to the mainland.

They won’t win, but might be able to create some upsets. Is this why the richest Chinese in the world, property tycoon Li Ka-shing, is preparing to withdraw from the scene altogether by announcing how his empire will be divided between his two sons?

Augustine Tan is a Hong Kong-based journalist.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

4 cities withhold info on ash disposal
The Daily Yomiuri(Tokyo)
July 6, 2012

CHIBA–Four cities in Chiba Prefecture have stopped disclosing the names and locations of companies charged with burying incinerated ash from ordinary debris, which contains radioactive cesium, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Thursday.

Matsudo, Abiko, Nagareyama and Narita are cities in the prefecture where relatively high levels of radiation were detected following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

The four cities, which ask companies to collect incinerated ash, said they made the decision because disclosing such information would cause fierce opposition from people living near disposal companies and final disposal sites.

Since the public has expressed serious concerns over the disposal of radioactive ash, the procedures for disclosure of such information will likely become more important, observers said.

The Matsudo municipal government disclosed in its fiscal 2011 general waste disposal program the names of four municipalities where private final dump sites used by ash collecting companies were located.

In its fiscal 2012 program released in April, however, such information was missing.

Abiko disclosed the names and locations of disposal companies until last year, but the companies’ names were crossed out in black in its document for this fiscal year.

Nagareyama started releasing the names of companies that rejected incinerated ash beginning last July. This fiscal year, however, it did not release the names of firms newly contracted to bury the ash.

Narita also did not disclose the names of such companies, though it did so last fiscal year.

The Waste Disposal Law obliges municipalities to map out a disposal program with basic information such as the details of companies that deal with waste materials.

The four cities’ documents on ordinary waste disposal programs are available for public viewing.

Last fiscal year, the documents of the four cities listed a total of eight municipalities in seven prefectures as places hosting final dump sites.

Currently, the ash being buried outside the four cities meets the radiation safety standards set by the central government at 8,000 becquerels or lower per kilogram–an acceptable level for a landfill.

To justify the decision to avoid disclosing information on disposal sites, an official of the Matsudo government said, “Local governments that accept the ash may be criticized by their residents, which could hinder their work and make them decline to accept the ash.”

The other three cities also referred to possible opposition from local residents as reasons for their decisions.

Meanwhile, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned that Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, and Nakano, Nagano Prefecture, accepted incinerated ash from Matsudo.

The two cities and ash collecting companies have explained the situation to residents, giving information on the source, concentration of radioactive materials and other details.

The identity of other local governments accepting the ash remains unknown.

In Chiba Prefecture, some local governments have never disclosed the names of companies that dispose of the ash.

Because the four cities released the names of such entities until last fiscal year, their policy changes have attracted scrutiny.

Ichikawa, a city adjacent to Matsudo, started disclosing some companies’ names last year.

“People pay a lot of attention to waste disposal matters,” said the official of the municipal government that stated all the names of companies charged with waste disposal this fiscal year.

“Local governments can make their own decisions on what they choose to mention in the documents on their disposal program. But we think it’s best for them to state the names of companies they ask [to dispose of incinerated ash],” said an official of the Environment Ministry’s waste division.

Victims of the tourist squeeze

A policy aimed at making Hong Kong more accessible to mainland tourists may have succeeded too well, according to some of its previous backers
Amy Nip
Jul 06, 2012

As a way of reviving Hong Kong’s battered economy after the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the Individual Visit Scheme was an almost immediate cure. It filled empty hotels, and restaurant owners and retailers rejoiced at the reappearance of travellers on the city’s once-deserted streets.

Over the nine years since, the scope of the scheme – which allows mainland tourists to travel to Hong Kong by themselves rather than in a tour group – has been expanded from the initial four cities to 49, making 270 million people eligible to visit Hong Kong.

The impact has been remarkable, with the Tourism Board reporting that 3.1 million visitors flooded in in January, up 23.9 per cent on the same period last year. They accounted for about three quarters of that month’s total of 4.14 million visitors.

In 2002 Hong Kong received 16.6 million visitors, of whom 6.9 million, or 41.6 per cent, were from the mainland. By last year the number had soared to 41.9 million, 67 per cent of whom came from the mainland.

But not everyone is happy with the fallout from the influx.

Bookshops have been replaced by outlets selling jewellery, watches and electronic appliances to the big spenders. Local mothers have difficulty buying milk formula – a sought-after commodity for mainlanders – and consumers confronted with rising inflation blame the tourists for soaring prices.

When the mainland’s simplified characters finally made it on to outdoor advertisements and restaurant menus, alongside the traditional ones preferred in Hong Kong, the anger intensified.

Hongkongers began calling the influx a cultural invasion, likening it to a plague of locusts.

No consultation was carried out before the government opened the gates in 2003 – and not that many people would have objected, given the prevailing economic slump.

Nevertheless, it was unusual for any policy with such a significant impact not to undergo a sustainability assessment first. Such studies have been mandatory since 2001, when the government adopted guidelines that require any new policy’s consequences for the economy, social infrastructure and cultural diversity to be taken into account.

The government’s argument was that the scheme was a timely measure that brought immediate benefits and was one of the most successful and welcome liberalisation measures adopted under Beijing and Hong Kong’s Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement.

According to James Tien Pei-chun, now chairman of the Tourism Board, the time has come to review a policy he once enthusiastically supported.

In March 2004, writing in this newspaper in his capacity as the chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party, Tien said: “Our economy is well on the way to recovery, thanks to the benefits from the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement and the Individual Visit Scheme. At last, our property market is flourishing, the stock market is climbing and our consumption is rising, but it will be some time before these benefits reach the ordinary citizen.”

Eight years later, Tien believes the scheme needs to be reassessed.

“The new government will have to look into the problem,” he said. “There are an increasing number of conflicts as mainland Chinese integrate with Hong Kong society. It is necessary for the government to look into the positive and negative aspects of welcoming mainland tourists into the city.”

The economic benefits are obvious. Tourism is the fastest growing of Hong Kong’s four pillar industries, the others being financial services, professional services and trading and logistics. The tourism sector employed 218,100 people in 2010, making it a major employer, particularly for those with lower qualifications.

But the rising numbers are not without their drawbacks. Since 2009, when Shenzhen allowed its permanent residents to apply for multiple-entry visas, day-trippers increasingly target daily necessities rather than luxury goods.Tien said this was pushing up prices of basic commodities and fuelling conflict between locals and tourists.

Further growth of the tourism sector was also not guaranteed as infrastructure problems came into play. The supply of hotel rooms, for one, has been a bottleneck for the development of tourism, he said.

Accommodation used to be low on the mainlanders’ list of priorities, with 70 per cent of their budgets going to shopping and just 10 per cent to hotels, Tien said. Now it was becoming harder for them to find affordable lodgings, with even a room in the New Territories costing more than HK$1,000 a night.

When tourist numbers were soaring, hotel supply was growing more slowly: the number rose from 94, providing 37,277 rooms, to 184, with 61,828 rooms. The occupancy rate jumped from about 58 per cent to 89 per cent. Almost all hotels were packed last Christmas, and room rates, even in Chungking Mansion, went through the roof.

The Commerce Department expects that by 2016 there will be 254 hotels in the city, providing more than 74,000 rooms, but Tien warns that rising prices may nevertheless see tourists going elsewhere.

“If a trip to Hong Kong costs more than HK$10,000, why wouldn’t they go to Rome or Paris instead?” he said. “They could get luxury brands for less than in Hong Kong after getting refunds for value-added tax.”

Land supply has always been scarce. Tien said this meant it was necessary for the government to rethink its priorities. “Should the government allocate land for public housing and offices or malls and hotels for tourists?” he said.

Even one of the biggest beneficiaries of tourism – the retail industry – has begun to feel the pain.

Caroline Mak, chairwoman of the Retail Management Association, said the lack of new retail space plus rising demand for land had caused rents to more than double since the Individual Visit Scheme was introduced. Noonly were shops in busy tourist districts affected, the upward pressure was being felt in neighbouring communities.

The labour shortage had worsened, with an association survey showing that 8.9 per cent of vacancies remained unfilled for prolonged periods. Government statistics in March showed the retail industry employed 256,844.

Mak said rising rents made products more expensive, while labour shortages threatened the quality of service. Both trends would reduce Hong Kong’s attractiveness as a shopping paradise.

With many shops turning to jewellery, watches, electronics and international brands, the local touch is disappearing quickly, leaving visitors with “a homogeneous shopping experience”.

“Local shoppers have come to me complaining about the long distances they have to cover to buy daily necessities … even convenience stores cannot withstand the high rents,” Mak said.

It also made the retail industry – more than half of whose sales are made to tourists – more vulnerable to economic changes.

In the first five months of this year, the volume of sales of jewellery, watches and valuable gifts – previous must-haves for mainland tourists – dropped 2.9 per cent from a year ago in the face of global economic uncertainties and a cooling off of the mainland property market. Over the same period, total retail sales volume increased 9.1 per cent.

Mak said a committee should be set up to review retailing’s impact on other sectors, including advertising, transport and catering. Then it should work out long-term directions regarding the number of hotels required, labour supply and retail space.

“Now it’s time to stop and think about how we can achieve sustainable growth. We should say no quick cures,” she said.

Although tourism is a thriving sector in many parts of the world, figures suggest its impact and the friction it generates are far greater in Hong Kong than elsewhere.

Despite its small size, the number of visitors to Hong Kong is comparable to that to entire nations: last year it welcomed 40 million visitors, almost two thirds of the 62.7 million received by the United States.

The UN World Tourism Organisation has forecast that by 2020 China will be the fourth-biggest source of tourists after Germany, Japan and the United States. Hong Kong will rank fifth in terms of tourist arrivals, with the top four destinations being China, France, the United States and Spain.

“The ratio of tourists to locals in Hong Kong is very high,” said Terence Chong Tai-leung, associate professor of economics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The ratio is almost six to one for Hong Kong, which has a population of seven million.

Mainland tourists, with their massive spending power, inevitably raised the demand for goods and added to inflation, which was aggravated by the depreciation of the Hong Kong dollar against the yuan. Chong said this was not a pattern repeated elsewhere: those going to New York, for example, seldom devoted all their time to shopping.

Chong said government intervention in the supply of hotel rooms had to be handled with caution.

The availability of rooms would limit tourist numbers, meaning it was not necessary for the government to limit the numbers of visitors.

The importance of mainland visitors to Hong Kong is likely to continue growing, according to Tony Tse, assistant professor in Polytechnic University’s school of hotel and tourism management.

He said it would be wise to put more emphasis on other source markets so the city did not become over-reliant on one particular market. Apart from shopping and dining, there was also room for enhancing and showcasing its culture.

“Hong Kong is unique in being Chinese in its roots and having a strong British influence,” he said, and more could be done to showcase the city’s colonial past.

Although no sustainability study has been conducted, according to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau the government has maintained close communication with mainland authorities on the Individual Visit Scheme’s implementation.

“Looking ahead, in considering whether to encourage more visitors, we should take into account whether we have enough facilities, such as the capacity of border control points and tourist attractions, supply of hotel rooms and transport,” a bureau spokesman said.

New dimension in cross-border pollution fight

Jasmine Siu

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Chinese University of Hong Kong has launched the first cross-border air and water quality monitoring system – though it admits it is far from perfect due to the lack of data from the mainland.

It expects that with more funding it will be able to place sensors on main roads in the Pearl River Delta to provide early warning for government officers and the public.

The system currently depends on the air pollution index released by the Environmental Protection Department and data collected from 3,000 chimneys.

It then analyzes specific areas where pollution is most severe and its direction of dispersal.

The project – run by the university’s Institute of Space and Earth Information Science – combines the technology of satellite imagery and virtual geographic environments to provide near-real time 3D data.

“In terms of technology, this is a major breakthrough,” Hu Mingyuan, a postdoctoral fellow at the institute, said.

Researchers hope the institute can gain access to mainland data in a few years and release a more accurate analyses on an hourly basis.

Approximately HK$2 million has been spent on the two-year-old project and the institute is hoping to obtain an extra HK$2 million government grant.

According to the Clean Air Network, a local nongovernment organization, Hong Kong’s air pollution mortality rate is eighth-highest in the world, far worse than the mainland, India and Vietnam.

While the high number of motor vehicles contributes to the city’s poor air quality, the situation is made worse when monsoon winds bring pollutants from the delta region, which is known for its high level of industrial development.

Meanwhile, the system for monitoring water quality is now entering an operational phase and will be completed by 2014. More data from the mainland is also needed.