Generation 40s – 四十世代

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If Carrie Lam wants to heal the rifts in Hong Kong, it starts with political reform

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-28

 

Sonny Lo says the chief executive-elect faces many challenges in uniting the city’s politics and society, but a focus on cross-aisle dialogue, reducing the wealth gap and affordable housing could be key first steps

The victory of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was widely expected, but the Hong Kong chief executive election demonstrated the lasting effect of political wounds left by the 2014 Occupy movement and the failure of the political reform package in 2015. How to heal these wounds remains a challenge for Lam.

Although the election outcome has not been welcomed by the pan-democrats, it is actually the result of their rejection of the 2015 political reform packageinitiated by the Hong Kong government and supported by Beijing. If pan-democrat legislators had accepted the political reform model within the parameters of the August 31, 2014, decision by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, this election could have seen a more competitive campaign among the three candidates, especially between John Tsang Chun-wah and Lam.Sadly, the pan-democrats refused to accept the proposal and insisted on a “genuinely” democratic model. Arguably, if any “genuine” democratic model of election exists, it must stimulate the participation of more citizens to elect their chief executive. The 2015 proposal provided a golden opportunity for mass participation in the 2017 election, but the pan-democrats rejected the need for any Election Committee to screen candidates.

The political controversies over the best model for electing future chief executives, especially approaching 2022, will continue to haunt Lam.

So, how can she best go about healing the wounds and rebuilding political trust between the government and pan-democrats?

First, though Lam said in her election campaign that political reform would not be a policy priority, her think tank has to consider a middle-of-the-road alternative. If the pan-democrats insist on a model of citizen participation and nomination, and if Beijing insists on the need to observe the 2014 Standing Committee decision, a number of compromises can still be considered. One option is to allow chief executive candidates to obtain a certain number of citizens’ signatures, to be nominated by Election Committee members in 2022. In other words, civic nomination could be considered in a revised reform package, but such nomination would fall under the parameters of the 2014 NPC decision.

The second option to heal the wounds, as Lam mentioned during her campaign, would be to repair the damaged executive-legislative relations via regular communication. This could be done in at least three ways: one, by creating an office similar to the Office of the Members of the Executive and Legislative Council of the British era; two, by assigning political appointees, especially deputy secretaries and political assistants, the crucial task of regularly communicating with legislators across political spectrums. A third and bolder option is for the new chief executive to appoint a few moderate pan-democrats to the Executive Council, so as to ensure more inclusive policymaking.

Another important task is be to speed up the appointment of committee on tax reform, to study ways towards a progressive tax system – long overdue given our widening income gap. Lam mentioned such a reform initiative in her manifesto. Progressive tax can help redistribute wealth in a moderate way. But the challenge of introducing such a system is convincing the business sector that it will not undermine Hong Kong’s economic prosperity and the investment climate, and that it will address social inequity.

Finally, housing and land policy will have to be revised to address the concerns of ordinary citizens who cannot afford to rent, let alone own, a home. A more ambitious plan of rebuilding public housing estates, a revived policy of expanding the Home Ownership Scheme, and a more proactive policy of dialogue with land developers must be the focus so that livelihood issues are tackled effectively.

In this way, class harmony between the rich and the poor, rather than class tensions among them, will hopefully be accomplished.

Thus, Hong Kong’s political wounds can be healed with optimistic but realistic solutions in the coming years.

Sonny Lo is a political commentator


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Let’s face it: Hong Kong will never fix its illegal parking problem

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-24

Yonden Lhatoo shares readers’ sense of despair and disgust over the city’s total inability to bite the bullet and do what it really takes to curb illegal parking

I watched a sad little circus in our Legislative Council this week. Stopping short of calling the performers a bunch of bozos, I would say they might as well have put on clown costumes and make-up to complete the picture.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum stymied the government’s long-overdue proposal to raise penalties for illegal parking by 50 per cent from next June.

It wasn’t enough for them that this is already a ridiculously benign effort to crack down on a problem that is a scourge of Hong Kong when it comes to quality of life. The plan is to raise penalties for different kinds of parking offences from HK$320 and HK$450 to HK$480 and HK$680. The amount will be commensurate with the severity of the offence, with drivers who pick up or drop off passengers in a restricted zone, for example, paying the stiffest fine.

This city hasn’t toughened its illegal parking penalties since 1994. For added context, the fine for littering is HK$1,500, and it’s a draconian HK$2,000 for jaywalking. Go figure.

In a jaw-dropping, twilight-zone moment, someone even called for fines to be lowered

Anyway, back in the big top, the argument presented by our elected representatives in favour of maintaining this ludicrous status quo was that the main reason for the problem was car ownership increasing faster than the growth of parking spaces. In a jaw-dropping, twilight-zone moment, someone even called for fines to be lowered. Yep, that ought to do it, Einstein.

Some problems in Hong Kong are just unfixable. This isn’t one of them. But it will never be fixed because of vested interests and a total lack of guts or will on the part of those in a position to do something about it.

Instead of my own commentary this time, let me quote our readers to break it down for you.

“90 per cent of Hong Kong residents don’t have cars. They are the sane ones – or the poor ones. Those with cars should have a fine of several thousand dollars for illegal parking. The fine could be reduced for delivery vehicles.

“HK$680 is what these people pay for dessert. Proportional fines would work best; with Inland Revenue already having access to your tax returns, it shouldn’t be difficult to coordinate with the police/courts over fines. They could even be automatically stacked up on top of your tax next year.”

“Make it easier for police and traffic wardens to issue tickets; give them an app with GPS and they can photo the offender, issue ticket by email. At the moment they have to handwrite in triplicate, and most appear too lazy to do so!”

If affluent Hongkongers are fearless in the face of fines, why not simply start deducting points from their driving licences? The threat of losing their right to drive ought to make these incorrigibles toe the line. Or start a vigorous culture of towing away offending vehicles to teach them a lesson.

It’s so simple, but try running that past our feeble-minded politicians and weak-willed transport authorities. And don’t forget that the police may be part of the problem, with their half-hearted enforcement.

“Traffic police simply ask the drivers to move on and all they do is drive around the block and park back in the same place as the police officers have simply walked on.”

“An offence is 24/7, 365! Not a one-week advertised crackdown. That must be the dumbest law enforcement tactic. No wonder drivers constantly break the law.”

Conclusion: it’s hopeless. I’ll just leave you with this little gem seen online that would sum up the attitude of so many Hong Kong drivers: “Somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a note on my windscreen which said, ‘Parking Fine’. That was nice …”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post


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Hong Kong’s ailing film industry can play a leading role in a hi-tech economy

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-24

Albert Cheng says the next chief executive should focus on transforming the city into a world leader in virtual reality and a post-production hub, to boost the economy

After three weeks of electioneering to be Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has a comfortable lead ahead of her two opponents in terms of support from the small circle of 1,194 electors – despite being unpopular among ordinary Hongkongers. There is little doubt the former chief secretary will emerge as the winner on Sunday.

However, it would be difficult for her to lead a government when her credibility is low. She can secure enough votes to win, but not the hearts and minds of the people.

If elected, the first thing Lam must do is restore people’s trust. For this, she should focus her attention on one vital subject: the Hong Kong economy. I would advise her to steer public attention back to how to keep the city prosperous. How Hong Kong can ride the global wave of innovation and technology should feature prominently in her first 100 days.

When it comes to innovation and technology, people often think of fintech, start-ups, and research and development. They overlook one important opportunity here: the film industry. In her manifesto, Lam states that in the face of competition, the city “should continue to nurture talents in the film industry by providing training to those involved in film production and post-production, and provide assistance in the further development of the industry”.

This is probably one of the very few issues where I agree with her. The government should invest in the future of Hong Kong by transforming this creative and energetic city into a post-production hub and world leader in virtual reality technology.

Hong Kong has nurtured a critical mass of talent in the film industry over the years. It is a matter of how our leader can unleash this vast potential.

The policy so far has been to invest a relatively small amount of taxpayers’ money to help Hong Kong’s technology firms leap forward. Yet, the logic of a matching fund in collaboration with venture capitalists defies common sense. Once they spot a good movie script, opportunistic investors would rather pocket all the profits, rather than sharing it with the government.

Instead of fumbling around trying to pick winners, Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung’s might be better to focus on assisting Hong Kong firms that are already on the right track to climb to the next level.

A scene from the 1987 movie An Autumn’s Tale. starring Chow Yun-fat and Cherie Chung. Hong Kong filmmakers used to produce up to 200 movies a year in the 1980s and 1990s, when the industry was hailed as a pillar of the local economy. Photo: Handout

Hong Kong filmmakers used to produce up to 200 movies a year in the 1980s and 1990s, when the industry was hailed as a pillar of the local economy. However, as its counterparts in Taiwan and the mainland continue to mature, Hong Kong’s creative industry has gone downhill. Virtual reality technology could be the key to help the city turn the tide.

Despite the lack of government support, local entrepreneurs have seized some of the opportunities. Actor Nicholas Tse Ting-fung is a shining example. He launched Post Production Office in 2003 to focus on post-production work for commercials and movies. He branched out in Shanghai and Beijing before selling 60 per cent of the firm to a listed company. However, its Hong Kong operations had to fold mainly because of runaway rentals and high labour costs. The is one of the many budding businesses which ended up moving away from Hong Kong.

The company has now been taken over by Digital Domain, which is chaired by Taiwanese businessman Peter Chou. It is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and can be promoted as a success story of our own. Digital Domain is based in the US, with its production studio located in Vancouver. Its special effects expertise is behind many Hollywood blockbusters, including Iron Man 3 and Transformers, to name but two. Many have asked, why Canada? Why not America? Or China? In fact, the answer lies in the local government’s aggressive incentives for investors.

By contrast, the Hong Kong government has been sitting on its hands. The flat, uninspiring ideas in the policy addresses every year are devoid of imagination. The next chief executive must take prompt action. When a good plan is not implemented, it remains at best an idea. Hong Kong can ill afford to let good ideas slip away.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.


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Hong Kong taxi drivers should welcome a premium service that will meet consumer demand

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-23

Anthony Cheung believes the 600 new franchised cabs will meet people’s demand for higher-quality rides. Hong Kong can well accommodate two types of service, and the taxi trade should not see change as a threat

 

Responses from the public and taxi trade to the Hong Kong government’s latest proposal on franchised taxis seem to be quite diverse. The public generally welcomes the new choice and calls for its early introduction, whereas some members of the taxi trade are worried about the impact of the new service on existing taxis.

The government has been listening to views in the community. We first mooted the idea of a premium taxi service in November 2015, to meet the community’s demand for personalised public transport services of higher quality. We have met members of the taxi trade, unions and other stakeholders through various channels, and we have been monitoring public opinion and media comments.

Adjustments were made to the preliminary proposals put forward last June, to address the concerns of the taxi trade on the one hand, and to better meet passengers’ demand for a more efficient and higher-quality “online car hailing” service on the other hand.

The 600 franchised taxis to be introduced represent only about 3 per cent of the 18,000-odd taxis in Hong Kong. Hence, they should not be seen as a threat to the survival of ordinary taxis.

Their role is to bridge the gap in the existing taxi market and respond to a very clear demand for new choice. With differentials in fare levels as well as operating and service features (at least half of the taxis in the new fleets are required to have wheelchair access), the move will help define two complementary taxi sectors. As an international city, Hong Kong can accommodate two types of taxis to meet diversified demand, just like, for example, Singapore and Tokyo.

In response to the concern of some trade members about an unrestrained number of franchised taxis in future, the government has now proposed to stipulate a statutory cap on the number of franchised taxis at 600. Any future adjustment of the cap will require a legislative amendment.

Having regard to the views of the taxi trade, the government may consider relaxing the proposed mandatory tendering requirement to have a formal employer-employee relationship between the franchisee and the drivers.

Yet, we still consider an employer-employee relationship conducive to providing employment stability for drivers and attracting new blood to the trade. Hence, tenderers’ specific proposals for monitoring the service quality of drivers, as well as their reward and penalty system, will be an essential criterion for assessment.

To address the concern that existing taxi operators may be excluded from participating in the franchised taxi market, the government now proposes to give a higher score to tenderers with experience in operating taxi and other public transport services in Hong Kong, provided they will operate the new service under the franchise model. We further propose that operators be required to pay a franchise fee.

Some worry that the launch of franchised taxis may aggravate traffic congestion.

Looking at it from a different perspective, the target clientele of franchised taxis will include some private car commuters; hence franchised taxis may actually help reduce the number of private cars on the road.

In response to the taxi trade’s concern about the shortage of drivers, we consider that appropriate facilitating measures (including proper driver training and more stable and better-protected employment arrangements) will help attract new blood to the trade.

The government is reviewing the existing requirement that applicants for driving licences of commercial vehicles (including taxis) must have held a valid licence for driving a private car or light goods vehicle for at least three years.

Franchised taxis are a new choice for passengers who need a premium service, while existing taxis, with their lower fares, will continue to provide the bulk of the taxi service for the general public.

As such, the government will certainly not abandon the existing 18,000 or so taxis. We will continue to work closely with the trade to explore how to improve the existing taxi service and formulate proactive measures.

In the course of studying the launch of franchised taxis, the government has listened to the views of the whole community, not just those of the taxi trade. We are not working behind closed doors. The public demands more choices and reforms. We have to think out of the box and act responsibly.

Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung is Hong Kong’s secretary for transport and housing


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Why Hong Kong and Singapore must help their airlines soar

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-22

Derwin Pereira says no laissez-faire principles can be prized more than the symbolic importance of Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines to each territory

When unbearable abdominal pain attacks you while you are flying 37,000 feet above the Pacific, hours away from your destination, you literally are at the mercy of the cabin crew. How they react depends on the culture of the airline, the crew’s practical training, and, finally, on a visceral capacity for human responsiveness.

I fell ill, with what was diagnosed later as a kidney stone attack, two hours into a recent Singapore Airlines flight from San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong. Members of the inflight staff gave me medication based on the advice of specialists on the ground. When the flight landed in Hong Kong, an ambulance was ready for me. So was a member of the airline staff who chaperoned me to the nearest hospital. I was on the next flight home after the check-up.

During my detour through Hong Kong, thinking about Singapore Airlines naturally made me take a comparative look at Cathay Pacific.

Both are premium Asian airlines. Both symbolise the audacious international reach of the minuscule territories where they originated. Both are under pressure from upstarts in other parts of Asia and even in their own regional backyards. Both have loyal customers who see them as national possessions. And both need their governments to accord them the courtesy given to national institutions.

Consider Singapore Airlines. I fly it because I am Singaporean. The airline is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. For me, though, its provenance dates from 1972, when it became the national carrier of Singapore seven years into the country’s independence.

The airline represents for me the capacity of a man-made institution to outwit hostile natural circumstances through Darwinian determinism. The ethic of survival and success, which motivated Singapore from the first moment of its independence, is written into the airline’s rationale. Singapore Airlines is to the skies what Singapore is to the land.

The airline is a national icon. In Singapore’s internationalised economic space, it is comparable in symbolic significance with the civil service and the Singapore Armed Forces. The civil service has overseen a city state’s transformation from third world to first world. The military ensures that the city remains a state.

Commercially, Singapore Airlines is Singapore’s face to the world, offering the first glimpse of what this country offers to foreigners. Those unimpressed with its standards are unlikely to be enchanted by the nation which lies beyond Changi Airport.

For Singaporeans, to whom the world does not owe a living, Singapore Airlines is a concrete example of how an unexpected nation can make a living, and a reasonably good one at that.

Cathay Pacific, I’d imagine, occupies a similar place in the Hong Kong public imagination. It began life as an airline that capitalised on its Asian locale even in colonial Hong Kong. Two decades into the city’s return to China, Cathay is not only a Chinese airline but also a Hong Kong Chinese airline, its mystique distinguished clearly from the larger cultural context in which mainland Chinese airlines operate.

Symbolically, Cathay is to Hong Kong’s autonomy in the air what the territory’s political and economic institutions are to its special status on the ground. To put it bluntly, Air China is, and is seen as, a Chinese airline, and in the larger framework of Chinese aviation, Cathay was, is and will be a Hong Kong airline.

This is why governments, like their peoples, need to view iconic airlines in special ways.

There is one impediment. Both Singapore and Hong Kong made their mark on the international economy by practising largely laissez-faire policies. Economic nationalism was a suicidal idea because it meant that small entities could be excluded legitimately from larger markets for political or ethnic reasons. Whatever the good or the service involved – whether apparel or airlines – economic access to the global hinterland was essential for Hong Kong and Singapore.

After all, Singapore Airlines could hardly fly from Changi to Seletar – where there’s an airport serving private jets – any more than Cathay could fly from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. Economic territorialism outside their borders spells physical doom.

Propelled on by the salutary limitations of domestic geography, Singapore and its Singapore Airlines, and Hong Kong and its Cathay remained a bridge between the contending worlds of capitalism and communism even during the cold war.

That was then. Today, West Asian airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways are leveraging on their geographical position between Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, the Pacific routes from Singapore and Hong Kong are up for grabs to regional challengers, not least from mainland China itself. Sovereign wealth funds help fuel the rise of some West Asian airlines. Flagship carriers in China or Malaysia have national coffers to fall back on.

To mix metaphors, there is no reason for Hong Kong or Singapore to abjure the sink-or-swim philosophy that made their airlines great. But they must ensure that those airlines do not now sink because other countries are intent on keeping their airlines shipshape.

Singapore Airlines and Cathay must take to the skies, carrying the aspiration of millions inscribed into their names.

Derwin Pereira heads Pereira International, a Singapore-based political consultancy. He is also a member of Harvard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs