Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Let me say it, loud and clear: well done Carrie! I find myself in a strange place of complimenting our Chief Executive. In her second policy address, she signalled a willingness to tackle long-term issues. In this town that’s progress. Moreover, the policy address contained a few gems.
Let us start with the gems first. The health of the wider community must be a government priority. No self-respecting person can argue that providing free cancer vaccines is a bad idea. We’ve had great success with such public health initiatives in the past. Setting aside the personal cost of cancer, it makes pure economic sense to do this.
Providing vaccines is cheaper in the long-run than hospital care. Especially when you weigh up the loss of earnings and the myriad of related palliative costs. The targeted HPV virus causes 70% of cervical cancers. It’s reckoned that this initiative will save 100 life’s a year. By eliminating this risk, the community realises countless benefits.
Staying with public health, banning e-cigarettes is a welcome respite for non-smokers. I’m sick and tired of dodging clouds of so-called vapour. Vaping produces much more smoke than traditional cigarettes. This crud hangs around in the air at office block entrances and on public walkways. Further, I don’t buy the argument “It’s safer than cigarettes.” People who utter such nonsense have no long-term studies to support their assertions. Moreover, you know what's safe - stop smoking.
Yes, I know, we will now see some revert to the traditional cancer-causing cigarettes. Meanwhile, vaping may get driven underground. As with other such laws, the challenge will be enforcement. On that score the Tobacco Control Office is ineffective. It’s staff need to be pro-active instead of responding to complaints weeks after a report. Smoking remains a blight on large parts of the city, plus I don’t see the police stepping up to the plate on this one. Nonetheless, Carrie dares to do the right thing.
The proposal to harmonise the cross-harbour road tunnel tolls is long overdue. Everybody understands the logic of the argument. Keeping one tunnel cheaper than the rest encourages drivers to go there. This approach creates congestion, air-pollution and underuse of expensive infrastructure. The Western Tunnel, in particular, is well below capacity even at rush hour. Continuing with this situation is illogical.
On the big issue of land supply, the government is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s beholden to vested interests which prevent movement without significant costs. No matter whatever you do, someone gets upset or displeased. At best building on the brownfield sites is a piecemeal option. It goes some way to helping relieve the housing shortage. While touching the Country Parks is out of the question. If this place is to keep any semblance of ‘quality of life’ the parks are inviolate. Never forget, Country Parks is our small contribution to combatting global warming.
Also, it's not surprising that many are calling the ‘Land Supply Task Force’ consultation a sham. The result was pre-determined. Having said that, I don’t see that any long-term alternatives. At least Carrie has a bold vision, although rising sea levels may yet swamp it.
On that environmental note, I must applaud the move to ban single-use plastics. We are having a terrible impact on our oceans with discarded plastics. Curtailing this must be a priority. Only legislation can change habits. We’ve had a success story with the plastic bag saga. Let's follow up.
A couple of other matters deserve including MPF offsetting and maternity leave. Both fall into the arena of employers, who will no doubt yell 'no concessions.' The MPF offsetting mechanism is a rip-off of workers - it’s as simple as that. It’s wrong on many levels and pure greed by employers. Neither should public money flow into the pocket of bosses to gain their support for changes. As a conciliatory gesture, our taxes will compensate them for up to 25 years.
None of this changes the fact the MPF scheme is a flawed policy, which needs wholesale reform. Its only beneficiaries are the finance houses, who charge high fees to hold our money. The MPF is a system you work for; it doesn’t work for you. Which is a pretty dreadful way to secure pensions for retirement.
Hong Kong ladies are not having babies. There are myriad reasons for this trend that's repeated across most developed societies. Japan and Singapore are amongst the places seeing the same decline in birth rates. I'd welcome anything reasonable that eases the difficulties of raising kids. Thus, more maternity leave is a start.
Unfortunately, the attitudes of employers remain Victorian. They will need dragging kicking and screaming into the modern world. Their many arguments against maternity leave are facile. I only wish they'd look around the world to see how Hong Kong is lagging. We need to catch up.
Of course, many issues remain unresolved. We still lack a coherent population policy. That appears some way off. Likewise, the government must take a stand against private cars. Our city can’t keep putting vehicles on the road without at least ensuring each has a parking space. Owners must provide proof of a car space before registering. That’s for another day.
The day wouldn’t be complete without the usual tiresome performance from certain legislators, who made a spectacle of themselves. These pathetic antics garnered them a few seconds of media coverage, and contributed nothing of importance.
So, well done Carrie. A pass mark for you. Yet, a word of caution. Given what she’s promised, keep a keen eye to see that she doesn’t break her vows.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.