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".