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All carrot, no stick for big business

Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 12:00am

CommentInsight & Opinion


The government doesn’t just pander to taxi and minibus operators with a massive subsidy to replace old catalytic converters, a wise reader has pointed out. It mollycoddles the entire transport trade.

Besides the HK$150 million for taxis and minibuses I wrote about [1], there is the HK$400 million earmarked to retrofit the old bus fleets with new emissions control devices under KMB, Citybus, New World First Bus and Long Win.

As an Environmental Protection Department official put it with a perfectly straight face: “We propose to fully fund the franchised bus companies for the capital costs of retrofitting for some 1,400 Euro 2 and 3 buses, including the buses selected for the pre-qualification trial.”

But all those hundreds of millions pale before the mind-boggling HK$10 billion the government has proposed to spend to phase out about 88,000 dirty diesel trucks by 2019 – that is, pre-Euro 4 diesel commercial vehicles.

The plan is still being worked out in discussions with trade leaders – who will no doubt demand their pound of flesh and get it – and then presented to the Legislative Council for funding.

So, the operators pollute our air, and we foot the bill for the clean-up. Another glorious example of our generous welfarism for big corporations and the rich. No wonder corporate types like Stanley Lau Chin-ho of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries denounces welfarism for the poor. Boys and girls, it’s truly a nasty class war out there.

No doubt the trade has argued, and they are probably not bluffing, that either they would do nothing if they had to pay for converting or replacing the polluting vehicles, or they would raise fares and charges to such a high level that the public would end up blaming the government for enforcing tough emissions standards.

I love this corporate welfarism – heads I win, tails you lose. It’s all carrot and no stick.

We all recognise the need to remove or at least lower sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and other particulate emissions in our environment. But there must be new and greater penalties and enhanced monitoring to make all these massive subsidies worthwhile. Otherwise, we face an endless cycle of trade subsidy.

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