Sunday, November 25, 2012

scmp: TVB executive says no room for new players

TVB executive says no room for new players

Amy Nip and Vivienne Chow

If the battle over new free-to-air television licences is as much about public opinion as it is about the government's long-delayed decision, then TVB executive director Mark Lee Po-on is coming out swinging.

While a recent poll by the University of Hong Kong found that 85 per cent of the city's viewers want more choices, the two existing terrestrial stations, Television Broadcasts (TVB) and Asia Television (ATV), have been the most vocal critics, arguing that there is simply not enough advertising revenue to support more players.

"We are not against having more [fishermen] join us to catch fish, but you have to create more fish in the sea first," Lee said.

TVB is fighting the new licence applications by City Telecom (CTI) and subsidiaries of iCable and PCCW on three levels: on government procedure, public opinion and in the political sphere.

Lee has questioned the government's right to award new licences before TVB and ATV's latest licences (which were secured with the promise of vast investment) will expire in 2015. He is prepared to go to court to press the claim, and has written to all lawmakers, Executive Council members and board members of the Office of the Communications Authority for support.

"If others are escalating this [dispute] to this level, we have to follow," Lee said, perhaps referring to City Telecom chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay's high-profile "please" for an answer on the licence applications, which the government has been considering for more than 1,000 days.

TVB planned to offer better benefits to its staff. From next year, they would work five days a week like many office workers in Hong Kong, and would get pay rises according to the inflation rate. But if anything goes wrong, the company would have to take the opposite direction.

"The bottom line is, if there's no money, we will have to cut costs. And there's no way we can improve the quality of our productions."

Would this be Plan B if more competitors emerge? "It would be inevitable," he says.

"The government must be clear about its logic and rationale [about granting more free TV licences]. It owes society an explanation on how many licences Hong Kong can accommodate. The government has never been clear," Lee said.

Commerce Secretary Greg So Kam-leung, he says, has been reluctant to even discuss the issue. "Greg told me: 'Mark, let's not talk about free-TV licences today.' What else can we talk about?"

Lee wants the government to clarify three things: how many licences it will issue in the long run, how it arrived at that number and when it will issue them.

According to Lee, the government's consultants never contacted TVB or ATV when they assessed the television market, raising concerns about the accuracy of their studies. Maintaining a tight grip on advertising and content, while introducing competition would kill the industry, the executive argued.

"There is no government around the world, which would bring in a few more stations, knowing they would fail in the end. Such behaviour is not responsible," he says.

But it seems the viability of stations is not the main concern of the city's viewers. While millions of eyes are glued to TVB's shows, audiences are quick to complain about programme quality and illogical plots.

Actor Raymond Lam Fung appears invincible to bullets or explosives in his role as a police narcotics officer in the action drama Highs and Lows. A bottle of oolong tea appears on Qing dynasty emperor Daoguang's desk in Curse of the Royal Harem. The same faces appear repeatedly in various shows: actor Law Lok-lam "dies" five times in different dramas aired on a single day.

Dramas tend to be restricted to a handful of genres featuring either an upper-class family's dispute, or the wives of an ancient emperor fighting for his love - the kind of tear-jerkers housewives enjoy after washing the dishes. It is in stark contrast to shows, such as Seven Women, that TVB produced in the 1970s, challenging viewers' minds and tastes.

And worst of all, some online users have nicknamed the station "CCTVB", accusing the broadcaster's news arm of taking its lead from the mainland's official broadcaster.

However, Lee rejects the criticism. He says TVB respects editorial independence and gives enough freedom to its creative team, allowing it to produce dramas like last year's hit When Heaven Burns, which won the hearts of young viewers (who usually reject free-to-air channels) with its subject matter - cannibalism - and political undertones.

But amid that creative freedom, ratings remain king, Lee says. "Why would [TVB] have to produce programmes that have low ratings? They can't generate revenue. No commercial operator would create products that have no market. We won't go against the market."

So, while ATV's major investor, Wong Ching, chooses to dance Gangnam Style outside the government headquarters during a protest against the licences, Lee, nicknamed "the maths man", centres his argument on the figures.

While licence applicants cite TVB's billion-dollar profits to support their argument that the market is big enough for more, Lee thinks otherwise. "It would be harsh for me to put it this way, but TVB is earning more at the expense of ATV," he says.

In 1996, TVB earned HK$2 billion from advertisements, while ATV earned HK$855 million. By last year, Lee's station was earning HK$2.8 billion, while ATV only had HK$100 million, he said.

Local television advertising revenue remains at about HK$3 billion, Lee says, much lower than advertising monitor's estimate of HK$18.2 billion last year.

And with ATV and TVB spending HK$2.5 billion between them, the money would soon run out if CTI lived up to its pledge to spend HK$1 million per hour on its proposed drama series.

There is a big difference between the two stations' revenue and admanGO's figures because they offer hefty discounts to major advertisers and frequenters, Lee, a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, says. He worked for accounting firm KPMG from 1977 to 1987 prior to his television career that spans both TVB and ATV. "If there is indeed HK$18 billion worth of advertising, I won't really care how many stations there are," he says.

Advertising revenue has fluctuated in recent years, slumping after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) scare in 2003 and dipping again in 2009 after the economic crisis. When the economy goes down, advertising is the first thing many firms cut.

The amount that companies devote to television advertising has not increased as more channels have been added.

"Before 2007, there were four analogue channels in the city. The number went up to more than 10 after the introduction of digital channels, including our three [channels] and ATV's four," Lee said. "But having more channels doesn't mean more advertising revenue."

With more stations to choose from, he says: "Total advertising revenue could increase a little, but that definitely won't be a large increase."

And there are other challenges for the industry. Hongkongers work ever longer hours and are likely to become more selective about which channels - if there are more available - they should devote their time to.

"People need to work and to sleep. It's a global trend that they are watching less TV," Lee said.

There is also increasing competition in the ad market - internet ad revenues grew 27 per cent last year while magazine advertising was up, according to admanGo. "You can see all the outdoor ads in MTR stations. Video ads appear in buses' TV sets and even in lifts," Lee said.

He draws on his own experience at the helm of ATV between 1992 and 1996 to explain the likely consequences of too many stations competing for too little revenue. "You cut the costly local productions and buy overseas dramas," he says. Dramas produced elsewhere are available at a fraction of the cost of locally produced series.

"I cut the hours of drama production from 600 to 260 [at ATV]," he recalls. The struggling station, which ran two dramas of its own every day during the 1990s, has since purchased more dramas from the mainland and the rest of Asia for dubbing. ATV still produces variety shows, but local dramas have been completely wiped out.

Lee says the situation is aggravated by the government's reluctance to allow the stations to expand beyond Hong Kong's small market. While their signals spill over into the heavily populated Pearl River Delta, ATV and TVB are not allowed to air their own ads. Instead, they have to hand over the rights to the mainland authorities for a paltry annual fee of less than HK$100 million.

TVB has made overtures during discussions on the mainland-Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, but there has been no sign of a breakthrough.

The uncertainty over the new licences has also stymied TVB's plans for overseas expansion, which might be risky. To step up its presence in the West, over the last six months it was planning an international version of the English-language Pearl channel to be broadcast on satellite stations. News would be its focus, mixed with travel shows and programmes about Chinese culture.

But Lee had to turn his attention to finding ways to fend off rivals, and he has harsh words for Ricky Wong. "I don't like the aggressive way he does things."

He says Wong's CTI plotted to poach half of TVB's 80-strong drama team in one weekend last year. "[CTI] wants to paralyse our operations. In the end, 25 of our staff quit. … If it is working for the well-being of the whole industry, it should train its own people instead of doing something this hostile.

"He keeps bashing our station's quality, but at the same time recruits our people and highlights what TVB dramas they worked on in the past."

But Lee strikes a more optimistic note when he talks of reforming the station's operations - regardless of the competition

"People are craving openness, and we are heading in that direction," the TVB executive says.

For the first time ever this year, for instance, TVB invited members of the public to choose the winner of the Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant. But the experiment backfired, with the system crashing as millions of people tried to cast their votes. The winner was eventually chosen, as in previous years, by a panel of judges.

This has not deterred Lee. Viewers will be able to vote for their favourite actor, actress and drama in TVB's annual awards show at the end of this year.

It is also going to scrap its three-decade-old Jade Solid Gold Best Ten Music Awards Presentation in favour of a more authoritative show jointly organised by TVB and three radio stations. The show - which other stations say has yet to be finalised - will also feature public voting.

"TVB does not have hegemony. We want to give the power back to the people," he says.

Lee emphasises that his station is an institution. "Victoria Harbour, Ocean Park and TVB come to people's minds when they talk about Hong Kong. The wrong policy could crush the 45 years of achievements that TVB has attained."

In tomorrow's edition, City Telecom boss Ricky Wong Wai-kay shares why new free-to-air licences are a must

Saturday, October 6, 2012

scmp: Wukan villagers' experiment with democracy has been hard going +讀後感






Mimi Lau in Wukan

A year after the start of protests that led to free elections in Wukan, a fishing village in east Guangdong, the din of cement mixers and construction trucks has replaced the revolutionary songs that used to blare through loudspeakers.

Cooking smoke curls through the air, and the giant white protest banners that called for the overthrow of corrupt officials have been replaced by slogans encouraging birth control.

Life seems to have returned to normal, but the growing pains have just begun for the village's young government as it grapples with the realities of Democracy 101.

"Many of us don't understand what democracy is and we are still learning," said village committee member Zhuang Liehong . "We are in a transitional phase and need to figure it out for ourselves."

Zhuang, one of four protest leaders previously arrested for their part in the movement, is now in charge of security, mediation and encouraging cremation.

The school playground - which became a laboratory for grass-roots democracy on the mainland when villagers cast their ballots there in free elections early this year - is packed with children unaware of the significant change brought about by their parents' defiance.

In late September of last year, thousands of villagers gathered in Wukan to fight for the return of their land, seized by corrupt officials in illegal land grabs. They defied armed security personnel, and in December demanded justice after protest leader Xue Jinbo died in custody.

Early this year, they voted in elections for a new seven-member village committee, replacing one sacked by the provincial government following months of protests. Instead of sending in troops to break up the protests, Guangdong's Communist Party secretary, Wang Yang , ordered a peaceful resolution, seeking to defuse tensions through mediation, investigation and the sacking of party officials.

The Wukan protests, their peaceful resolution and consequent direct, grass-roots elections - deemed free, fair and transparent - have been hailed as a landmark model for others to follow on the mainland.

"From resistance to realising direct election, we have come a long way," deputy village chief Yang Semao said. "But there is still much to work on in our fight for grass-roots democracy in China.

"For instance, we've posted notices informing villagers of the latest issues, such as construction projects or returned land, but many don't bother to read them, or can't because they are illiterate. Then they end up accusing us of hiding village affairs from them, which is very frustrating."

With post-election euphoria gradually wearing off, the fired-up village officials who vowed to get lost land back when they were sworn in six months ago now appear disheartened in the face of widespread frustration.

"Our honeymoon period lasted for about three months, and after that, it was a mess," Yang said. "Villagers were very supportive and high-spirited at first, but that unity is on the verge of splitting apart.

"Villagers are driven by their land interests, but progress on getting the lost land back has been far from ideal."

Zhuang said he's thinking about quitting.

"I'm saddened that villagers are not showing enough appreciation for all that we have done for them. They took us for granted.

"But if the villagers were supportive, I wouldn't regret it even if I worked myself to death."

Zhuang said people affiliated with the old village committee and developers had manipulated some villagers, encouraging them to attack the new committee. "If they succeed, Wukan will be taken back to square one," he warned.

By early last month, 227 hectares of the 446 hectares of land lost in illegal land grabs had been returned to the village. However, about a third of that was residential land belonging to individuals, and not part of the communal pool.

The fate of another 493 hectares of disputed land - shared with six neighbouring villages - remains undecided, even though the provincial government has promised to resolve the problem this month.

"It's unsettling knowing our land is still in the hands of villains," said Zhang Bingchai , a seafood trader in Wukan. "Democracy is good, as we have a responsible village committee working on our behalf, but the upper levels of government are not acting quickly enough to resolve our problems.

"Only with land can the village forge ahead with development. Only then will the villagers have hope. I hope our experiment with democracy continues.

"The government [of the county-level city of Lufeng ] has imposed heavy surveillance on the first anniversary of unrest, but the villagers are very rational. If the land can be returned to us, then long live the party: it's that simple."

To prevent a repeat of last year's protest, the city authorities in Lufeng and Shanwei - which have jurisdiction over Wukan - have planned ahead.

About 10 villagers who were active players in last year's uprising have been escorted from Wukan, while many others have been banned from visiting Hong Kong or Macau. Many villagers believe their mobile phone calls are being monitored, and access to their microblogs has been blocked.

Villagers who used to host visiting journalists in their homes were warned against doing so ahead of the anniversary, and were questioned if they did. Journalists have also been trailed and questioned when reporting in the village, with some hotels in Lufeng turning away reporters and foreigners.

The cash-strapped village government has almost no revenue, because it has decided against levying charges on villagers who have been running small shops outside their homes in the wake of the land-grab turmoil.

"It is futile to talk about anything else, including democracy, without an economic foundation," said party secretary and village chief Lin Zuluan .

"Most of the existing revenue channels, such as fish ponds, are still occupied by people affiliated with the previous village committee. We can charge a small sum for running the wet market, but even that has been operating at a loss because we have to cover its environmental and hygiene costs."

With no income coming from the village, Wukan has had to rely on funding from higher-level governments.

They are paying for 60 million yuan (HK$73 million) worth of construction work in Wukan - with projects including a library, improved water and electricity networks, a shelter for fishing boats and a new school.

"It is hard for us to introduce social management policies with our finances in such a poor state," Lin said. "With no money to pay workers, how can you make them work for you? We are a village, how do we know what politics are? It's useless to chant slogans. Overcoming the economic difficulties is our priority, but it is a tough fight."

Lin said he expected the village would be able to get back 70 per cent of the land it had lost. But he added that it would be hard to avoid unrest if the land wasn't returned. Yang said he knew grass-roots democracy was going to be hard, but he didn't know it was going to be this hard.

"But we won't give up easily, because we are held accountable by the people who elected us. And after all, only a minority has expressed discontent."

Monday, August 13, 2012

scmp: Businessman born in HK can't be naturalised

Businessman born in HK can't be naturalised

A businessman of Indian descent has been unable to gain Chinese nationality or a local passport even though his family came to the city nearly a century ago.

Furthermore, Philip Khan, 50, was born and raised in Hong Kong, and his late uncle fought against the Japanese in the second world war.

The businessman found himself caught in an identity crisis when he tried to run in the upcoming Legislative Council election and was told he was ineligible because he was not a Chinese national.

Khan, who speaks fluent Cantonese and has a trading business on the mainland, said the Legco ordinance went against the city's Basic Law, which protected the rights of permanent residents to stand for elections.

He is now considering launching a judicial review.

His family arrived in Hong Kong in 1915 from what is now Pakistan. It was then part of British colonial India.

"We have always considered Hong Kong as our home," Khan said. "We have a close relationship with Hong Kong's history. I see myself as a native too as my family had been in Hong Kong for almost 100 years. We have contributed to the society."

Khan said his uncle, Fazl Muhammad, a Hong Kong police constable, was killed by Japanese bombs in Ho Man Tin.

"Before 1997, I considered myself a Hongkonger," he said. "After 1997, I also considered myself to be a Hongkonger. But this year, I suddenly have doubts about my own identity. Am I still a Hongkonger?"

In April, he tried twice to apply for Chinese nationality so that he could run for office. But immigration officers dissuaded him from even filing the applications, citing mainland nationality laws that require at least one of his parents to be a Chinese national, Khan said.

In June, Khan voluntarily took an oath before the immigration officers that he would renounce his Pakistani passport so that he could apply for an Hong Kong passport.

However, he later received a letter that said he had to prove he was a Chinese national.

Similarly, Pakistani housewife Balqees Bibi's application last year to become a Chinese national was also rejected. Bibi, 48, said that was even though she had submitted all the relevant paperwork and had gone for an interview.

She said last week that no reason was given, but she suspected it was because she could not speak Cantonese and was not rich. When she was 18, she came to Hong Kong with her husband, whom she later divorced.

Her six children (who speak Cantonese) and four grandchildren all live in Hong Kong. With the national education curriculum being introduced in schools, Bibi said it was unfair to teach her descendants to be patriotic without recognising their nationality.

"If the government really wants to push for national education, give us passports first and treat us as Chinese. Then you can teach our children national education. I will treat you well if you treat me well," she said.

To be sure, foreigners have been successfully naturalised in Hong Kong, including Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman and district councillor Paul Zimmerman.

The Immigration Department says foreigners or stateless people can apply for naturalisation if they have relatives who are Chinese nationals, they had settled on the mainland, or have other legitimate reasons. Applications would be considered individually based on their merit, it said.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

scmp: Heaviest rain in 6 decades causes chaos in Beijing

Heaviest rain in 6 decades causes chaos in Beijing

At least 37 people were killed as the heaviest downpour in six decades hit Beijing, causing chaos and sparking criticism of officials ill-prepared to deal with an emergency situation.

The rainstorms, which started on Saturday afternoon and continued until early Sunday morning, flooded key roads, left cars floating, paralysed transport, and sent torrents of water into homes and car parks. More than 50,000 people in the capital were evacuated, mostly from outlying mountainous districts, Xinhua reported.

The death toll is expected to rise with the media saying yesterday that numerous people, including rescue workers, were missing.

The heavy downpour caused 545 flights to be cancelled or delayed at Beijing Capital International Airport (SEHK: 0694) and stranded more than 80,000 people, Xinhua said. Starting from Saturday afternoon, more than 20 Beijing-bound flights at Hong Kong International Airport were delayed and one was cancelled. Some of the flights were delayed for almost 12 hours. Train services between Beijing and Guangzhou were also suspended as some sections of the railway line were under water.

Always considered a dry city, an orange alert - the second highest rainstorm warning - was issued for the first time in Beijing on Saturday evening. An average of 17cm of rain was recorded by 6am yesterday, the largest since weather records began in 1951. Hebei town in Fangshan district recorded 46cm of rain, according to the Beijing Meteorological Bureau. The rainstorms were the first stern test for the leadership of Guo Jinlong , newly elected as party secretary last month. CCTV reported that Guo held an emergency meeting after midnight and demanded that safety be given top priority.

However, the capital city's handling of the disaster attracted much criticism. The critics say the weekend rainstorms exposed inadequacies in the capital city's infrastructure, especially the lack of sufficient storm-water facilities to deal with heavy rain.

"It clearly showed that the city's infrastructure has big problems," said Shi Qixin , a professor of transport engineering at Tsinghua University.

Roads in the city have been designed to concave under bridges as a cost-saving measure, which means there has to be a good drainage system to go with the design, otherwise water can back up quickly in heavy downpours.

"The city has developed too fast for its sewage system to catch up - it cannot take in so much water any more," Shi said. "Government officials are fully aware of the problem, but how fast it [the drainage system] will be renovated depends on the determination of those officials."

Yi Peng , a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission, said: "It was a disaster indeed, but we cannot ignore human responsibility.

"A contingency strategy by the city's flood and drought prevention office promised tailor-made plans for individual bridges, yet a man was drowned at a downtown bridge, which shows that their contingency plan has failed."

Staff of the Airport Expressway still stopped cars and charged toll fees when the expressway was flooded and cars were likely to stall.

"All this has shown that the authorities need to improve their emergency management capabilities."

He also criticised the municipal government for failing to give enough warnings to people beforehand or to take the lead to broadcast important weather information. The government did not issue warnings on television nor did it send text messages to mobile phone users. The official Sina microblog of the Beijing government information office and Beijing police only warned residents of the danger late at night, when the city was already flooded.

More downpours were forecast yesterday for northeastern and southwestern China, where at least 10 others were reported killed at the weekend, Xinhua said.

A total of 120 million yuan (HK$146 million) has been allocated for relief and repairs in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, according to the Ministry of Finance.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

scmp: 41 voting firms registered at same address

41 voting firms registered at same address

The voters' list for September's Legco elections reflects a quirk of the city's electoral law: 41 companies that will vote for trade-based seats are all registered at the same commercial address. Twenty-eight other firms all share the same address, too.

This may seem odd, coming so soon after the government's unprecedented crackdown on vote-rigging deprived 216,000 people of their voting rights - after multiple voters used the same addresses in last year's district council poll.

The practice is illegal for individual voters who give addresses where they do not reside, but acceptable for companies voting for functional seats.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the suspicious phenomenon among trade-based voters arose from manipulation of grey areas in the law.

"I can only say it further exposed the loophole of functional constituencies, yet it is allowed under the law. The only solution would be to scrap the trade-based seats altogether," said Choy.

The Registration and Electoral Office released its final list of voters on Wednesday. Among the 3.47 million voters eligible to vote in September's election, about 7 per cent, or 240,711, can vote in the functional constituencies - the 28 trade-based and professional sectors in which companies can vote.

In the catering sector, which comprises 7,800 voters - largely individuals - there are at least 41 voter-companies registered to the same address as a Well Keen International Ltd, related to the Itacho Sushi chain. The address is Unit 707-709 on the seventh floor of Lu Plaza, Kwun Tong, Kowloon.

Some of the 41 companies also have similar names, such as Wise Faith, Wise Genius, Wise Hero, Wise Master, and so on.

Itacho Sushi did not respond to a request for information yesterday.

A further 28 voter-companies are registered at 15th floor, Luk Hop Industrial Building, San Po Kong, Kowloon. Some of those companies' names include China Spring Development, China Speed Development and China Professional Asia.

While it is unclear whether the large collection of companies belongs to the same chain or owner, the links are more apparent in some other business sectors.

Shanghainese restaurant chain Wang Jia Sha has registered six of its branches as voters, while the Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts Holding registered nine branches.

The Liberal Party's Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who registered on Wednesday to run for another term in the catering sector, said: "What the companies are doing is completely fine. You just do not understand the election."

He was referring to the electoral law, which allows all holders of food business licences to become voters. "McDonald's has more than 200 outlets but it only holds one licence as one company, so it is up to what the company wants to do."

However, Dr Li Pang-kwong of Lingnan University doubted whether the administration had done enough to check on the functional voters' qualifications. "Before the abolition of functional constituencies, at least the law should be amended so that all voters are made up of individuals, instead of individuals together with companies," he said.

In the 6,700-strong information and technology sector, at least 10 branch companies of telecom tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai's PCCW (SEHK: 0008) are registered. They include PCCW-HKT Business Services, PCCW-HKT Network Services, PCCW Ltd and PCCW Global Ltd.

Charles Mok, the candidate in the IT functional constituency, said there was no way of verifying if voter-companies were just shell companies.

But he said only 5 per cent of votes come from companies, so their splitting the vote between company branches would have little impact.

Samson Tam Wai-ho, who is considering running for another term as the IT sector lawmaker, suggested that in the long term, the functional electorate should be reformed into an all-individual model to eliminate loopholes.

Entertainment tycoon Steven Lo Kit-sing's company, BMA Information Technology, a subsidiary of BMA Investment Group, is also registered in the IT constituency.

However, Lo's influence appeared to carry across sectors, since five of BMA's other branches registered as voters in the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication sectors - such as BMA Records and BMA Entertainment.

Counting votes: a closer look at key sectors


At least 41 companies are registered to the same address: Unit 707-709, 7/F Lu Plaza 2 Wing Yip Street Kwun Tong, Kowloon.
At least 28 companies are registered to 15/F Luk Hop Industrial Building, 8 Luk Hop Street, San Po Kong, Kowloon.
Pacific Coffee has three votes - as Pacific Coffee Company, PCC Investment and PCC Investment (II).
Shanghainese restaurant chain Wang Jia Sha has six branches registered.
At least nine Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts restaurants are registered.

At least 10 PCCW companies, including PCCW-HKT Business Services, PCCW Limited and PCCW Global Limited are registered.
At least five companies in the Hutchison (SEHK: 0013) conglomerate, such as the Hutchison Telecommunications and Hutchison GlobalCentre, are registered.
A firm called Starbucks is a registered IT voter, not in the catering sector.

Six Broadway Cinemas are registered.
Five BMA Investment Group firms, including BMA Records and BMA Entertainment, are registered. BMA Information Technology is a voter in the IT sector.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

scmp: Food banks a source of relief for families

An Oxfam Hong Kong survey last August found that one in every six households with children was in a state of "high food insecurity".

Food banks a source of relief for families

It was not easy for Mrs Lee to ask for help in feeding her family of three. But with an irregular household income of about HK$6,000, the 40-year-old housewife was left with no choice.
Three years ago, Lee began seeking help at the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals' Food For All - Short-term Food Assistance Service, where she received rice, oil, noodles, canned food and supermarket coupons for fresh food from their Tai Kok Tsui centre. Above all she was grateful for the rice, an expensive item these days, even though she was initially reluctant to visit the food bank for fear of bruising her husband's ego as the family's breadwinner.

"My husband has difficulty finding work due to his age and struggles with severe mental stress," she said of Mr Lee, 60, who works on short jobs as a renovator.

"I told him that we are not being greedy because if we can get some help with food, it will relieve the pressure on him. He will at least not have to worry about putting food on the table. Now he's warmed to the assistance."

The Lee family is one of a growing number of impoverished households living hand-to-mouth. An Oxfam Hong Kong survey last August found that one in every six households with children was in a state of "high food insecurity".

Last year, the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) 's Heart of Hong Kong Relief Fund raised more than HK$1.3 million from readers, which has helped two food banks provide fresh food to the hungry. The donations were shared between the Tung Wah's "Love, moving on" programme and the People's Food Bank of St James' Settlement.

St James' Settlement used the funds donated by Post readers to buy fresh food to include in their six-week food packs, and it is expected about 700 families will benefit. One of the beneficiaries, Mrs Lam, a new immigrant mother of two and wife of a construction worker, said fresh vegetables had been the biggest help from the St James' food pack. The Tung Wah food bank has used the donations from Post readers to create the "Love, moving on" programme to help families with children aged between four and 18. So far, 600 families, including the Lees, have been assisted.

In addition, breakfast workshops will teach primary-age children how to prepare a nutritional morning meal.

Mrs Lee, who moved to Hong Kong from Shenzhen in 2007, said her daughter Phoebe did not eat enough protein: "I give her a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit because she's growing but I think she's undernourished and I'm worried that I won't see the effects until it's too late."

If the housewife could cook whatever she fancied for her daughter, it would be broth made from fresh bones for protein. But the ingredients are out of her budget, and keeping the stove on for so many hours is too costly.

She soon realised the food bank was not only offering relief for her family's financial stress but also offered a safe haven where she could confide in social workers. "It's given me a place to vent," Mrs Lee said, cracking a smile.

And in the spirit of giving, Phoebe returned Tung Wah's kindness by performing a jazz dance at a fundraising show last December.

Post reader architect Peter Lee, 46, was moved by the reports of people in need of food assistance. Although he had had virtually no experience in volunteering, he contacted Tung Wah last year. He has now been helping stock shelves and making home deliveries one day a week, for the past year.

"There are many different issues but food is neutral, in that it is such a basic human right," Lee said. "No matter what age, gender or religion you are, you need food.

"Our society can be so unforgiving. We have abject poverty in Hong Kong, but what I found to be most important is to give hope to the poor.

"How I can help is by making visits and chatting with the beneficiaries, letting them know that they are cared for and return to them the respect and dignity they deserve."

Monday, July 2, 2012

scmp: Law to be more user-friendly

Should also be used as guide to general writing~

Law to be more user-friendly

Law drafters are aiming to make Hong Kong legislation more accessible to the public by adopting a simpler and gender-sensitive writing style.
The effort to "modernise" the text, which will be applied to all legislation starting this year, is also meant to narrow the gap in quality between the city's body of laws and those of developed Western nations.

"I am a very strong believer in the fact that the rule of law really requires that laws be accessible," said Eamonn Moran, a law draftsman at the Department of Justice, who pushed for the changes.

The department published a guidebook on clear and gender-sensitive drafting earlier this year.

Under the new style, "he" will not be used in place of "she", and the archaic "shall" will be avoided or replaced by the word "must". Drafters are also advised to limit unbroken text to about 50 words.

They must avoid double or triple negatives, such as in the vague statement, "This court does not disagree".

The Justice Department hired legislative editor Elizabeth Grindey - a language expert, and not a lawyer - to look at the law from an average person's perspective.

Aside from new legislation, drafters can also use the new style when amending existing laws.

Moran pointed out that it would be difficult if people without easy access to legal texts were suddenly told they had violated a law they barely understood.

"We see accessibility having two aspects. One, that you can actually find the law. Two, when you find it, you can understand it, and you don't need to go and get a legal professional to tell you what the law is saying," he said.

"So when the rule of law is making clear that the law is fixed, that they are in place, then those laws will be enforced on an equal and non-discriminatory basis," he said.

Moran cited Australia and New Zealand as examples of countries that effectively used plain language in legislation, adding that Britain was rapidly catching up. "Hong Kong is [getting] there. We want to be seen as a plain-language jurisdiction," he said.

For many years, law drafters used the word "shall" in legal texts to mean an imposition of an obligation. Moran called this practice old-fashioned, adding that there was a call worldwide to use "must" instead.

Moran said the department was also working hard to get rid of the masculine reference "he", which under chapter one of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance was intended to denote "she" and "it".

There were debates around 20 years ago in Korea and Australia on whether this masculine reference was discriminatory, as it treated women as a subset to men. This is one aspect where Hong Kong has lagged behind other jurisdictions, according to Moran.

One solution is using gender-neutral words such as "firefighter" instead of "fireman"; "police officer" but not "policeman" and "lay person" rather than "layman", he said.

Long-winded texts are also a problem, making it difficult for ordinary readers to grasp what the law means. One sub-clause under section 187 of the Securities and Futures Ordinance, for example, uses 179 words to explain the use of incriminating evidence in proceedings.

Moran said simplifying legal jargon was another area to work on. Some jurisdictions abroad now refer to "writ" as a "statement of claim", a "claimant" or "complainant" instead of "plaintiff", and a "freezing order" in place of "mareva order".

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

scmp: Mind power a matter of perception

There is no doubt that the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was a catastrophe for hundreds of thousands of people. But for Linda Fancy, it gave her the impetus to bring together the strands of her experience as a counsellor, crisis management consultant and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner to create a programme to help relief workers cope with the emotional maelstrom of helping others in that time of crisis.

Today, Fancy, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1998, runs a more refined version of this early programme, a one-day workshop called Personal Power, to help city dwellers deal with their own personal turmoil.

"I was in Sri Lanka just after the tsunami and, like so many others, I wondered what I could do to help," says Fancy. Although she had experience helping others in Hong Kong, she felt ill equipped to deal with a disaster of this kind. However, an unexpected interaction with a distressed man who had survived the tsunami by climbing a tree gave her the confidence to step forward.

"I was hired by the UN and the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health to support medical graduates doing psychosocial field work. I saw there was a problem with burnout, as these freshly graduated doctors and nurses had not been taught any self-management techniques, and all too easily identified with and became 'damaged' by the emotions of the very people they were trying to help."

And so the MeManagement self-awareness programme was born, scribbled out on a flip chart and offered as a self-help programme to the graduates along with relief workers at other NGOs.

Fancy herself had a traumatic childhood with the loss of four close family members. This, she says, gave rise to deep-seated feelings of abandonment, and through her early life would make her overly sensitive to rejection, real or imagined.

"I attended workshop after workshop, seeing many truths, but with minimal change," she says. "One of the turning points came when I was introduced to the more results-oriented NLP techniques, and undertook certification so that I could better understand my mind. I had dabbled in self-hypnosis with astounding results, so the different mind awareness techniques came easily to me."

NLP processes can help participants make peace with self-sabotaging inner voices, through the use of techniques to moderate or reframe thoughts. The technique is popular, especially where quick results are required, such as in an environment of crisis, because it doesn't dwell on the causes of behaviour but seeks to allow patients to "move on".

The techniques stand at odds with classical psychoanalysis - or the "talking cure" - where the focus is on understanding the cause of emotional reactions. The conflict between the methods is illustrated in the recent film, A Dangerous Method, about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. In the end the friendship cools as they diverge in their beliefs; Jung believing that while psychoanalysis can reveal the cause of unwanted behaviour, it cannot cure the patient.

Fancy has found what she believes to be the middle ground: "While the initial programme focused more on reframing and disassociation techniques, it quickly became apparent that you do need to see the roots of your behaviour in order to manage your mindset. It's all very well doing a workshop and leaving full of good spirits and intention, but it is easy to fall back into old habits when you are involved in an emotional situation."

With her painful childhood, Fancy realises more than most that our early years do have an impact on the way we think and react. "We are born without a sense of self but as we grow we create a conditioned identity of 'me', and with our absorption of language and influences come a whole range of 'me' - the doubter, the self-righteous, the neglected, the needy, the independent.

"Science has shown that 95 per cent of the time we are automated in our responses to life, operating on the premise of our conditioned thoughts, which more often than not are unreliable; they are just our childhood perception of affairs, which can be very distorted.

"I provide people with models to help them see the roots of their conditioning, and then stand back as if witnessing their inner 'me'. From that place, which I call the MetaMind, you are able to act like a movie director - you can call the cut on destructive thoughts, and then move to the next scene. Where you put your thoughts is where you put, and potentially lose, your power."

But rather than spend weeks in counselling, the Personal Power workshop attendees run through a series of exercises in a day, learn disassociation techniques, develop a better awareness of "me" with drawing and charting exercises, and pick up tools and techniques to help regain and maintain balance.

"The best thing about Fancy's course is that you walk away with real tools that you can use on your own," says workshop attendee Jane. "You're taught simple meditation and visualisation techniques, and creative methods for drawing and mapping your life, thoughts, emotions and perceptions."

Another attendee, Nathan, an airline pilot, says: "From the start of the workshop I saw immediately why I act and think the way I do. The programme gave a good insight into who I am and how to adjust my thoughts. It also helped me gain energy by letting needless thoughts go."

While Fancy runs a regular public workshop, she also offers corporate and one-on-one sessions. "It's amazing how these simple exercises can allow people to step back and see how their the mindset drives their reactions, and this then frees them to choose how they want to respond to life in every moment," she says.

This is personal power.

For more information on Fancy's workshops, visit her website:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

scmp: Mixed messages for gays in workforce


Mixed messages for gays in workforce

Most of the working population think it is unacceptable to discriminate against homosexual, bisexual or transgender employees - but a majority in the latter group say they feel discriminated against at work.

These findings, from two surveys, one of more than 1,000 employees at large and the other of almost 700 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff, were released yesterday to coincide with International Day Against Homophobia.

The polls were conducted between November and January for Community Business, a non-profit group that promotes corporate social responsibility.

One, the first of its kind on employee attitudes to LGBT colleagues, found more than 80 per cent believe it unacceptable to exclude the latter from social events or deny them a promotion based on their sexual orientation, while 68 per cent said they were "very much" or "somewhat" willing to work alongside them.

Almost 80 per cent think LGBT individuals do face work discrimination and 67 per cent hear people tell jokes against sexual minorities.

At the same time, 85 per cent of respondents to the survey of LGBT staff said a non-inclusive workplace had had a negative impact on them, 71 per cent said they had to lie about their personal lives and just over half said it was difficult to build authentic relationships with colleagues.

This does not appear a paradox to Professor Sam Winter, a University of Hong Kong academic specialising in transgender and sexuality studies.

"It only takes one person to make someone's life miserable," he said. "I can assure you just as there is discrimination against individuals, there is indirect discrimination against those who advocate on their behalf."

Winter said serious attention should be paid to the minority figures in the survey, which found that 35 per cent of the working population considered it unacceptable to give LGBT staff in a role where they meet customers, and 25 per cent said it was acceptable to not offer a job to such a person.

An Equal Opportunities Commission spokesman said the survey findings showed that sexual minorities "are still often treated as outcasts" at work. "Every one of us should have the freedom to be who we are irrespective of our sexual orientation and gender identity," he said.

Connie Chan Man-wai, of sexual-equality advocacy group the Women's Coalition of HKSAR, said it all came down to creating a safe and inclusive work environment.

"LGBT individuals have to know they won't lose their job if they come out and their boss will treat them the same as other colleagues," Chan said.

She said discrimination also needed to be more clearly defined, as many might see dismissal for sexual orientation as discrimination but not think a casual joke fell into the category.

scmp: Mind Frame


Mind Frame

Elaine Yau (
May 15, 2012

Mental treatments involving counselling and psychotropic drugs often leave patients with expensive medical bills. In coaching sessions with psychologists, patients have to recall traumatic events that precipitate their neuroses or phobias.
For those who baulk at the bills or the soul-baring chats with psychiatrists, a new type of therapy might be able to offer some fresh hope.

Cognitive bias modification (CBM), a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), has generated much buzz recently.

In recent years, researchers have been looking into how CBM helps those with social anxiety and substance abuse problems.

Professor Samuel Ho Mun-yin, from City University's department of applied social studies, is recruiting people for a large-scale study on how CBM can help people prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These include children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, people with a history of drug abuse or family violence and recovering schizophrenic patients.

"How people see and process trauma has to do with their personalities," says Ho. "Some focus on the good and develop resilience. Others fixate on the bad and keep thinking about bad experiences, which leads to PTSD. Our perception is affected by our attentional bias or automatic and unconscious bias."

Psychologist Colin MacLeod from the University of Western Australia is among the pioneers in CBM therapy. He developed the dot-probe test, where people view a computer screen on which positive (a smiling face), negative (a feral dog) or neutral (furniture) images are flashed briefly, adjacent to each other. After the images disappear, dots appear where one of the images was, and the person has to respond by pushing a button. People with anxiety consistently respond more quickly to dots that appear where the negative image was located.

Similar tests have recently been turned into smartphone apps.

It is assumed that if the viewer's attention is caught by the negative picture, he is likely to respond faster to the dot that appears in the same place because his attention is already fixed on that area of the screen.

After long sessions, psychologists can assess whether the player is predisposed to suffer social anxiety in a crowd of people, which might be the case if his attention subconsciously turns to a minority of hostile faces and ignores the pleasant faces around him.

Ho says a similar version of this dot-probe test is being developed for local patients, using Chinese words and pictures that have relevance to Hongkongers. "Both pictures and words can be used for the tests. We have compiled a list of 60 Chinese words, with positive, neutral and negative meanings. We are looking for pictures with a local context."

Ho says the exercise can be also configured to snap people's eyes away from the part of the screen that shows negative images. "Our brain is adaptable, and repeated exercises over a long period can condition it to break bad habits."

In similar exercises used by Western psychologists to treat people with anxiety, the dots always flash in locations where neutral or positive images appear.

In a study conducted by the University of Amsterdam published in Psychological Science last year, more than 200 alcoholics who were at least three weeks out of detox were recruited. Half the participants did four 15-minute CBM sessions on four consecutive days. This consisted of deliberately pushing the joystick in reaction to pictures of beer, whisky and so forth (literally and figuratively pushing the temptation away), and pulling the joystick in response to pictures of soft drinks. The control subjects had no training or sham training sessions. Researchers found that a year later, 46 per cent of CBM group had relapsed, compared to 59 per cent of the control group.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University are examining whether there's a connection between cognitive biases and PTSD in American and Israeli soldiers. Ho's study on 170 local breast cancer patients, published in Psycho-Oncology last year, showed that those with attentional bias were more likely to dwell on their traumatic cancer experience and develop PTSD.

In spite of all the buzz surrounding CBM, Wong Chee-wing, clinical psychologist and chairman of the Chinese Association of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, has doubts about the whole idea.

"There's little evidence to show that CBM can treat anxiety," he says. "Attentional bias is just one of the myriad factors that can lead to mental disorders. Anxiety is caused by many things, like a patient's personality traits and upbringing. The whole CBM concept is based on a simple premise that patients are attracted to sad images while ignoring happy faces. The idea that you can play a phone app for two hours to get your condition treated is immature."

Wong adds that CBM is yet to be incorporated into standard treatment guidelines, such as those for Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. CBM is a nascent field without rigorous clinical trials, says Wong, but CBT has a wealth of research and clinical data to support its efficacy.

"Computerised CBT sessions are not games like those CBM apps. When we use CBT to treat [anxiety] patients, we train them to evaluate the probability of bad things happening. Other techniques are used to help them avoid exaggerating dangers. There is computer-assisted CBT for self-learning. But the role of therapists is not excluded - they have online chats with patients."

Even MacLeod told The Economist last year that CBM is not quite ready for general use. He said that there should be more large, long-term, randomised clinical trials to show the effects of CBM.

Clinical psychologist Michelle Chan Wing-chiu says CBM can go hand in hand with traditional treatments.

"Though CBM development is still in its infancy, research has shown a proven link between bias and anxiety. Computerised practices can train the brain to break bad habits. However, at this stage, we cannot tell how long the effects will last and whether those effects will hold under all circumstances, including stressful situations."

Ho says ordinary people who are not diagnosed with mental ailments can use it to boost their resilience.

"How we perceive or interpret things has to do with our subconscious thinking, which contains biases we are not aware of. By zooming in on the biases, CBM has the potential to boost the treatment of mental problems."

Monday, May 14, 2012

REUTERS: Fewer women in top U.S. tech jobs since 2010: survey

True? "Women also face the "preconceived notion" that they are focused on other priorities like starting a family. That bias is damaging to IT departments because many struggle to find qualified workers."

Fewer women in top U.S. tech jobs since 2010: survey

By Nick Zieminski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of women in senior technology positions at U.S. companies is down for the second year in a row, according to a survey published on Monday.

Nine percent of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) are female, down from 11 percent last year and 12 percent in 2010, according to the survey by the U.S. arm of British technology outsourcing and recruitment company Harvey Nash Group.

About 30 percent of those polled said their information technology (IT) organization has no women at all in management. Yet only about half of survey respondents consider women to be under-represented in the IT department.

Although women have reached senior positions at Facebook, Xerox, IBM, Oracle and other large companies, they are absent at the top of many IT departments. That makes it hard to draw others to senior roles.

"Less and less women are attracted into that space so you wind up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Anna Frazzetto, senior vice president of international technology solutions, at Harvey Nash USA. "It's not a very welcoming arena to be in."

Women also face the "preconceived notion" that they are focused on other priorities like starting a family. That bias is damaging to IT departments because many struggle to find qualified workers.

The survey, conducted with TelecityGroup, included responses from 450 U.S. technology leaders. It is part of a wider, global survey that found increasing tech budgets and more visible roles for CIOs.

A majority of those surveyed said their organization is facing a skills shortage in areas such as business analysis and project management.

"The skills shortage is the biggest it's ever been, and it's going to cause companies to get a little more creative in shifting the culture of organizations," Frazzetto said.

That shift is already taking place at small companies, but large ones have yet to change their culture, she said.

While the U.S. average of 9 percent female CIOs has declined, it is higher than the global average of 7 percent, Harvey Nash found.

(This story has been corrected after the company revised figure in final paragraph to 7 percent, from 3 percent.)

(Reporting by Nick Zieminski in New York; Editing by Jan Paschal)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

scmp: Accidental hero of HK$6,000 handouts


Accidental hero of HK$6,000 handouts

A man who spent his HK$6,000 government handout on buying food for Hong Kong's hungry has accidentally created a new movement to help the city's poor.

Benson Tsang Chi-ho was making a simple personal protest against the government's decision to give all permanent residents cash instead of using the money to help the people he believed really needed it.

He used his money to buy tins of food and hot meals from small, independent stores and restaurants in Sham Shui Po to feed the local poor.

A few of his friends decided to join in, using their HK$6,000 "as it should be used - back into the community".

Tsang, an interior designer, posted some pictures of their efforts on Facebook and then arranged some other "people's handouts" using the social network site.

The turning point came in February, after a government clean-up operation swooped without warning on street sleepers in Sham Shui Po. Their belongings, including bedding, identity cards, phones and clothes were confiscated and thrown away.

Tsang said: "I got so mad about it I started ranting on Facebook. That night, I brought clothes down to Sham Shui Po for [the street sleepers] but they were nowhere to be seen. It was really cold that night."

His outrage saw his actions gather momentum and now, a year and two months since the first "action" last March, 150 to 180 people gather once a month to try to make a difference. Most of them have never met each other before. And as of yesterday, 678 people had indicated on Facebook that they were taking part in the next of their planned events.

Tsang said: "It's completely decentralised and anonymous. No one needs to commit and everyone's encouraged to bring the idea back to their own neighbourhoods, or start their own actions."

Tsang said the aim wasn't just to "feed the poor" but to change the way people see others and to realise how powerful one's decisions can be.

"This is not about being sympathetic - we don't need that. It's about sharing. We are trying to rebuild community and relationships within a neighbourhood," he said.

Nise Sou Lai-sim, who does community development work in a church and has become a regular participant, said: "We don't raise funds, we don't need commitment, we have minimal organisation.

"Rather, we hope this experience will create bridges between people of different backgrounds.

"Our aim is to bring back the sense of neighbourly friendliness which Hong Kong has lost."

Sou became involved last October - at which time about 40 people were taking part - after coming across Tsang's Facebook posting about a "mooncake event", where the group was giving out 800 mooncakes which had been donated.

On Christmas Eve, she added, about 100 people turned up. She said talking to store owners, street sleepers, the elderly or cubicle dwellers was just as important as giving out food. "When you talk to people, your heart will change," she added.

She said it was also important to spend donations within the community itself. "If we buy cans of food from ParknShop and Wellcome, then the meaning is lost.

"This exercise is actually about bringing awareness. I changed the way I see, and so changed the way I consume.

"We want participants to realise this," added Sou, who said the movement had also spread to To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City.

Cyrus Hu Kwok-chum, who joined for the first time in December, said the initiative had made him aware of where food was made, and who would benefit from the money he spent.

"My eyes were opened," he added, saying he now counted street sleepers, local store and restaurant owners as well as the people collecting cardboard among his friends.

Hu works for a food import and export company and his bosses now donate food and drink which is close to their sell-by date and therefore cannot be sold to supermarkets.

Another participant Ban Chung Wing-sze, who works in publishing, was moved to act a year ago after seeing Tsang's pictures of elderly people collecting cardboard to sell in order to be able to eat that night.

"I was looking for a way to serving people, and saw that this was a good one," she said.

Tsang said 80 per cent of the people who indicated they would come to an event turned up.

Without a structure, Tsang said, he had named what was happening an "equal sharing initiative".

There are now around 20 people who help put together events.

The next one climaxes on May 26 and is all about "rediscovering your little neighbourhood stalls".

People are being asked to purchase five to 10 cans of food from different small, local shops, label them with the stores' addresses and paste pictures on Facebook.

On May 26 in Sham Shui Po, which has the lowest average household income in the city, participants will swap the cans of food then return to their own districts to hand out the tins to the local needy, said Tsang.

"We will create a network and map of all the local surviving stores all around the city, supporting them, while using our money to ultimately support the needy," added the man who started it all.

Monday, May 7, 2012

scmp: Developers step up pressure over bill on flat sales


Developers step up pressure over bill on flat sales

Developers want the government to remove two key components of a bill to regulate the sale of new homes, which their lawyers say are unconstitutional.

The call by the Real Estate Developers Association comes as members of a panel studying the bill rush to finish their clause-by-clause scrutiny to get it through before the legislature's term ends in July.

Association secretary general Louis Loong Hon-biu said the two disputed measures - a requirement to publish price lists before sale and a ban on quoting gross floor area to describe flat sizes - should be removed because of the rush.

He said the bill could be split in two parts, with the undisputed clauses legislated on first and the others added later after revision.

But bill committee member Democrat Lee Wing-tat said he objected to any separation "because the two measures are the key elements, without which the law would be meaningless".

The Transport and Housing Bureau said it had no plans to legislate the bill in phases and aimed to complete the legislation in the current term.

Loong said the association made the suggestion after consulting constitutional law expert David Pannick QC and two other lawyers on the bill.

"We are not against legislation, but we want to make sure it is a good law in compliance with the Basic Law and human rights," he said.

According to a 24-page joint opinion by Pannick and Tristan Jones, both from London's Blackstone Chambers, and Wilson Leung from Temple Chambers in Hong Kong, the price-list rule would place a restriction on a developer's right to dispose of its property, and amending the price list could also "create confusion and obfuscation rather than transparency".

The ban on gross floor area in advertisements and brochures would violate freedom of speech, a right to be upheld even in the context of commercial advertising, the lawyers said.

They referred to a 2008 Court of Appeal case in which a doctor successfully challenged the Medical Council's restrictions on doctors' rights to advertise their practice.

The developers disagree with the government view that gross floor area - with a share of common areas in the development added to the actual size of the flat - is misleading to buyers.

"We don't want to delay the bill, but there should be enough time to examine the bill carefully," Loong said.

He added that a standardised definition of gross floor area should be written into the bill first.

He said it was premature to say whether the association would seek a judicial review if the bill was passed unchanged and took effect next year.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

scmp: Power transfer system means no more cables

點解Prof. Ron Hui離開左城大?

Power transfer system means no more cables

Refrigerators with no power cords and mobile phones that can be charged though a wall are on the way thanks to a wireless power transfer system developed by University of Hong Kong researchers.

Wireless transfer based on electrodynamic induction - where electricity passes from one device to another without any direct connection as in a rechargeable electric toothbrush - has been around for years. But until now it was possible only over short distances.

The system devised by Ron Hui Shu-yuen, chair professor of power electronics at the university, and Lee Chi-kwan, assistant professor of electrical and electronic engineering, can transmit power over what they term a medium range of a few metres.

The electricity travels through an electromagnetic coupling between a series of resonating coils arranged in domino-like patterns that allow flow to be reversed or even split into branches with little power loss.

"With the multiple coils system, electricity passes through distance as in a relay [race]," Hui said. "We can easily charge a mobile phone or supply power to the television next door through the wall."

When the system was patented by Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla more than a century ago, it was assumed it would work only between two coils, limiting the distance over which it could be used. But the team found a way of making the power travel from coil to coil. Hui - who also invented the first universal wireless battery charging plate for hand-held electronic products in 2005 - said the new system would be useful in sites such as heritage buildings where drilling was not allowed.

Even over longer distances, efficiency could be kept at 80 per cent.

As the electromagnetic coupling was not radioactive, there were no health risks even when used throughout an entire house.

The theory has been peer-reviewed and was published in the latest volume of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' journal Transactions on Power Electronics last month.

Hui said his team had patented part of the research and the project had been granted about HK$1 million from the government's Innovation and Technology Fund to extend the transmission distance and improve efficiency of the system.

"If it works like it does in theory, we may transmit electricity wirelessly even between continents," he said.

Friday, March 30, 2012

scmp: Li puts his faith in city's core values



Li puts his faith in city's core values

Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing, yesterday called on the city to rally around its core values of "freedom and rule of law", in the wake of his favoured candidate's loss in the chief executive election.

Li was a staunch backer of former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, but the chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings) said he would "absolutely support the [new] government", which takes office in July led by Leung Chun-ying.

Speaking at the announcement of the annual results for Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa, Li said the Hong Kong government did not hinge on one person.

"It is important to protect Hong Kong's core values - freedom and the rule of law. As for democracy, it is enshrined in the Basic Law and will go on to develop [according to the mini-constitution]," he said. "Everyone should support the government, which is based not only on one person, but the whole administration."

Li repeatedly stated his high-profile support for Tang, who lost Sunday's chief executive election with 285 votes to Leung's 689.

While some major developers, such as New World Development's Henry Cheng Kar-shun, made a last-minute shift to Leung's camp, Li persisted in his support for Tang. Li reportedly turned down a request from Vice-President Xi Jinping to back Leung. "The election is over," said Li. "We will adopt a co-operative attitude towards the government." Li said he did not fear that the property market would be affected by the new government, stressing he would not withdraw his capital from the city - contrary to speculation during the campaign.

"I love our nation and Hong Kong," he said, adding he would not pull out of the city. Hutchison's investments in Hong Kong account for around 16 per cent of the company's global stake.

"Hong Kong has the Basic Law and its legal system," he said. "No one has ever been affected because they voted for the other [loser's] side."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

scmp:Court rules against permanent residency for maids


真搞笑!如果佢地係靠自己儲錢、飛來港讀書/搵工、直接受聘,再夠鐘而入藉,咁樣,與所有出國既人在同一種競爭環境下而得到永久居留權,我唔介意之餘亦非常欣賞添!但只係被公司post到外國做野,一夠鐘就入到藉,仲不受入境條例限制? 嘩咁間間跨國公司post下d同事去邊就永久住邊呀? 咁仲洗入境處?

咁低人生成本下就出到國做野,已經夠晒唔ordinarily啦,仲發爛要做resident @@,被優待定被歧視呢?

Court rules against permanent residency for maids

Foreign domestic helpers do not have the right to apply for permanent residency in Hong Kong, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the government on Wednesday, overturning a lower court's controversial ruling.

The appeal court held, in a unanimous ruling, that the exclusion of foreign domestic helpers from applying for a permanent identity card was constitutional.

It held that the presence of such workers in the city was special and they were different from refugees and prisoners not in type, but only in degree. The challenged immigration provision gives effect to the Joint Declaration signed by the British and Chinese governments in 1984.

The appeal stems from a ruling by Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon, of the Court of First Instance, who found in September that an immigration provision was unconstitutional. This is because it excluded foreign domestic helpers from being “ordinarily resident” in Hong Kong, a finding that was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal filed by the government, worried about a possible influx of immigrants, and set aside the Court of First Instance ruling.

It also ordered Filipino Evangeline Banao Vallejos, the judicial review applicant who has worked in Hong Kong since 1986, to pay the government's legal costs arising from the appeal and the original judicial review.

An appeal to the top court was likely, said Mark Daly, the lawyer representing Vallejos. “It is highly likely that we are going to take this to the Court of Final Appeal,” he said.

Asked if he was disappointed with the ruling, Daly said: “There is no time for disappointment. We will fight until we see justice.”

He said the case involved important issues including the rule of law, strict legal interpretations and principles of dividing citizens into classes.

Daly said he would study the judgment in detail with his client.

In a 66-page judgment handed down on Wednesday, Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, chief judge of the High Court, wrote: “In my view, the exclusion of foreign domestic helpers under section 2(4)(a)(vi) [of the Basic Law] does not encroach upon the central characteristic of the term ‘ordinarily resident'.

“It is a category of exclusion not different in kind, but only in degree, from the pre-existing categories of excluded persons, for instance, Vietnamese refugees and imprisoned or detained persons,” Cheung wrote.

“Regardless of her own subjective intention or purposes, a foreign domestic helper's stay in Hong Kong is for a very special, limited purpose from society's point of view – to meet society's acute demand for domestic helpers which cannot be satisfactorily met by the local labour market,” he said.“Hence, their stays in Hong Kong are highly regulated so as to ensure that they are here to fulfil the special, limited purpose for which they have been allowed to here in the first place, and no more,” Cheung wrote.

Cheung ruled that there was no case of discrimination, as found by the lower court.

Cheung cited a judgment by permanent judge Kemal Bokhary as saying “different treatment of citizens and non-citizens in regard to the right of abode is a common if not invariable feature of the laws of countries throughout the world, including those with constitutions which prohibit discrimination.”

“The difference of treatment flows inevitably from the fact of the political boundaries which are drawn across the globe,” Cheung said.The other two judges, Mr Justice Robert Tang Ching and Mr Justice Frank Stock agreed.

Stock said the challenged immigration provision no doubt intended to give effect to the Joint Declaration signed in December 1984.

It stated that among “those who would have the right of abode in the city were all Chinese nationals born or who had ordinarily resided in Hong Kong before or after the establishment of the city for seven years or more as well as persons of Chinese nationality born outside Hong Kong of such Chinese nationals”.

After the court ruling in September, the government temporarily halted the processing of applications for permanent identity cards from foreign helpers.

A total of 724 applications were filed between October and January, dropping from a peak of 334 in November to a low of 93 in January.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

scmp: Simulated ballot gives everyone a say

Simulated ballot gives everyone a say

All permanent residents aged over 18 will be able to vote on Friday via a website, smartphone app or at one of 15 polling stations.
Photo: Thomas Yau
Every adult permanent resident will have the chance to cast a vote for chief executive this Friday, in an attempt to influence the 1,193 people who will choose the city's next leader.
The results of the simulated ballot, organised by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, will be made known to members of the Election Committee, which will choose Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's successor two days later, on March 25. "We will hold the civil referendum two days before the actual polling day to give Election Committee members and the public a day to digest our results," programme head Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu said.

Chung set out last month to raise HK$500,000 to run the poll. But with more than HK$760,000 raised, some HK$80,000 has been set aside in case no candidate reaches the required 601 Election Committee votes, which would lead to a poll rerun in May.

He expects around 50,000 people to vote. "It will be very desirable if the turnout reaches 100,000," he said. "If hundreds of thousands of people come out to vote, our [computer] system may get overloaded. But it may indirectly show our success."

Online voters must provide identity card and mobile phone numbers, and at polling stations show their identity card. Personal information will be deleted after one week.

The government said yesterday deputy secretary for financial services and the treasury Alice Lau Yim would head the chief executive-designate's office. Tasked with ensuring the new government's smooth transition, it will operate from the day the chief executive is elected to June 30.

scmp:Studies to test feasibility of cave projects

Studies to test feasibility of cave projects

One possibility being examined is relocating the Sha Tin sewage treatment plant underground, leaving a 28-hectare space to build flats

The government is moving towards burying bits of the city - the unsightly ones - in underground caverns, freeing up more land for housing and economic development, according to officials.

Two feasibility studies were in the planning stage, and officials would seek funding approval from lawmakers in April and May, Deputy Secretary for Development Enoch Lam Tin-sing said yesterday.

The studies would give the government a basis for policy guidelines to encourage cavern developments for both public and private sectors - following the example of some European countries - he said.

The idea of using caverns for unpopular utilities - like sewage treatment plants, fuel storage depots, refuse transfer stations and columbariums - has been under discussion for over a year.

The scheme will begin by identifying suitable rock caverns to house 400 government facilities that can be relocated, notably the not-in-my-backyard utilities disliked by nearby residents.

"Like European countries, we can see a local trend of vacating land by putting facilities inside caverns," Lam said. "The extension of the campus of the University of Hong Kong is one example. We expect more from the private sector," he said, adding that caverns have been used as wine cellars, data centres and car parks in Finland and other countries.

The university hid a saltwater reservoir in an artificial cavern next to its Centenary Campus, in a project that cost HK$500 million.

The two feasibility studies, which will cost nearly HK$100 million, will - among other issues - weigh the engineering feasibility of relocating the Sha Tin sewage treatment plant in a cavern, vacating a 28-hectare site for housing development. The proposed 140-hectare site for the cavern is a hill named Nui Po Shan, in Ma On Shan district.

Nui Po Shan was chosen because the rock in that hill is suitable and it is close to the existing plant, according to Lai Cheuk-ho, the chief engineer in the Drainage Services Department. "It will require minimal amendment of the existing sewage tunnel that runs from the existing plant to Kai Tak River and Victoria Harbour, involving the least cost and implications for nearby residents," he said.

The government will seek innovative building methods to shorten the construction period of the project, which could last until 2027.

Lam said the idea of putting facilities in rock caverns had generally been well received by the public, except for residents who could be affected by some projects. A public consultation on plans to increase the city's land supply - including through reclamation and cavern developments - is expected to end by the end of this month.

Five suitable areas for cavern developments were identified in a preliminary government study, which found that two-thirds of the city's hilly areas could accommodate such developments. The five areas are Lam Tei in Tuen Mun, Shek Mun in Sha Tin, Siu Ho Wan on Lantau Island, Mount Davis on Hong Kong Island and Lion Rock in Kowloon.

scmp: Rail link's saga of waste and fraud goes on

Rail link's saga of waste and fraud goes on

Audit officereports further embezzlement, mismanagement and other serious problems related to high-speed Beijing-Shanghai line

Evidence of yet more fraud, waste, mismanagement and irregular accounting and procurement worth billions of yuan was uncovered in the construction and running of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, according to a report by the National Audit Office yesterday.

Irregularities included 491 million yuan (HK$600 million) misappropriated or embezzled by local officials.

Serious problems and irregularities related to the project dated back to the bidding process in late 2007, with auditors finding the Ministry of Railways had not followed standard tendering procedures for civil engineering work and contracts for construction materials.

In some cases, civil engineering companies were given just 13 hours to place their bids, rather than the minimum of five days stipulated by regulations.

The report, the audit office's third investigation into the high-profile rail link, also found there had been difficulties in making payments for the construction work. At the end of May last year, the line had debts of more than 8.25 billion yuan owed to 656 materials suppliers and 1,471 construction contractors.

There were also unnecessary costs incurred through mismanagement of the construction process.

In March last year, the ministry cancelled the construction of 177 kilometres of wind screening, at a cost of 413 million yuan, following an adjustment to the operating speed of trains on the line.

The report also found that though construction of the flagship project had been completed on time, it had run almost 20 per cent over budget.

Originally budgeted at 163.8 billion yuan, the project's cost swelled to 196.3 billion yuan by late June - before taking into account "partial design alterations, workers' pay and differences in materials prices and other conditions [that will] increase investment that have yet to be finalised".

The figures did not include a further 53.8 billion yuan budgeted to pay for trains to run on the line.

A series of stoppages hit the line under a fortnight after the service's launch on June 30, leaving passengers stranded in dozens of trains without lighting or air conditioning for periods of three hours or more.

The reputation of the mainland's high-speed railway network was further tarnished on July 28, when a collision between two trains near Wenzhou , Zhejiang province, claimed at least 40 lives.

In August, 54 trains running on the Beijing-Shanghai line were recalled by manufacturer China CNR due to safety concerns about flaws in an automated safety system which was blamed for causing the delays.

It was later reported that metal fractures had also been found in the axles of the trains.

However, the auditors' report said there had been a marked improvement in the situation compared to the previous investigation - released in March last year - which had found financial irregularities totalling almost 5 billion yuan.

"Up to late September 2011, correction of problems found in the 2010 audit had basically been fully implemented," the report said.