Hong Kong ends the week looking at two contrasting styles of government. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department under Lau Kong-wah spits in the public’s face with a display of mendacity and misinformation. Eddie Ng’s Education Bureau, on the other hand, shows refreshing honesty, openness, courage and integrity. Both concern the relationship between public and private interests.
Most taxpayers probably vaguely assume that the LCSD exists to provide the Hong Kong people with parks, museums and concert halls. But, like most government departments, their priority is non-residents – or specifically the landlords or ‘tourism industry’ that benefit from visitors’ apparently endless and mindless expenditure. Hence the widely unpopular plan to ‘revitalize’ the Tsimshatsui waterfront by sealing it off for three years and then letting property giant New World run it for another 20 years.
In order to counter allegations of collusion with property tycoons, the LCSD is insisting that ‘no luxury shops or high-end restaurants’ will be opened on the promenade. It is ‘not a property or commercial project’, and therefore New World can’t possibly make any money out of it.
However, this extension of the tacky and dreary waterfront will lead right up to a New World-owned property and commercial project, namely a hotel, which is where luxury shops and high-end restaurants will be.
It’s not the scummy, ‘tourism first, screw everyone else’ nature of the deal that really offends; it’s the insult to our intelligence in expecting us to imagine a big local developer doing something and not making money out of it. It’s the pretense that’s pathetic.
This nicely unfolding little controversy is also a classic example of the Hong Kong bureaucracy’s demented stubbornness when trying to ram through a stupid and unpopular idea. They could have anticipated hostility. They could have listened to critics and considered other options. But no – it’s going to be ‘we are right and you are wrong’ all the way. It could be a gift to the pro-democrats as a way to stir up public feelings (though they seem to have chosen this moment to get bogged down in a bleat-fest over a meeting with a Beijing official).
By contrast with the LCSD, the Education Bureau provides an example of no-nonsense transparency and truthfulness that gives us hope for governance in Hong Kong.
It appears that some schools, along with other buildings in the city, have unsafe levels of lead in the water. Education officials are taking action. The children most at risk of suffering brain damage from this poison are the little ones in kindergartens. Therefore, the bureau announces, ‘we will fund water filters for all establishments except kindergartens’.
Wow. It’s not often we get that sort of frankness from these government people, but there you heard it straight: to hell with the little bastards.
The logic is that kindergartens are privately run. If government paid for water filters, the owners could capitalize on this advantage in the market – ‘We’re not giving kids brain damage any more’ – and charge higher fees and so make more profit. Transfer of benefits! This principle could be applied to other dangers to kids in kindergartens. So if a little child is bleeding to death following an accident with scissors, public paramedic and hospital services could just shrug and put the phone down. ‘Privately run’, sniff. Think of the money we’d save.
I declare the weekend open with the cheerful thought that exposing kindergarten kids to lead will in time improve the supply of intellectually suitable workers to fill the dead-end tourism jobs that New World will be creating at the Hung Hom end of the waterfront promenade. A win-win!
Repeat after me “This is why we can’t have nice things”.
In a sensible city, a waterfront improvement project would be uncontroversial or even popular. The thought that developers might possibly make money out of it would be greeted mostly with a shrug. The idea that tourists might be attracted to it would offend few, if any. In a sensible city, a waterfront improvement project that closed the whole place off for 3 years would be unnecessary because they would’ve gotten it right the first time, instead of building a sad tiled walkway with some plastic statues and a Starbucks on it.
Hong Kong is not a sensible city. We cover things in drab pink municipal tile first and regret them later. Developers are Evil Overlords so we must cut off our own noses to spite them. We mustn’t ever build anything nice, lest the tourists take it over. More pink municipal tile, then. And the government must be so obtuse that it won’t notice anything wrong with the optics of handing a big waterfront project to a single developer, as though they learned nothing at all from the West Kowloon Great Canopy Debacle. Ye gads.
Now let me ask a question which has been nagging me almost as much as TVB’s newscasters insistence on using the phrase “China defeat of Japan in the second world war” WTF ! What has caused lead levels in potable water to rise in so many buildings but only those constructed in the last 10 years? I smell a cover up and I believe it will involve our northern neighbours who of course cannot be criticized. .
Drink beer instead of water. It’s safer.
The New World plan and the EDB’s ‘logic’ are so ‘Kong’. Remember also Li Ka Shing benefitting from a ‘mistake’ when the plot size of that place he got in TST was worked out? Imagine a place in the world where the smallest of kids don’t have access to lead free water on the basis that someone might benefit and ‘win’.
Or, alternatively, schools might test their water for lead FIRST.
Genius, when you think about it.
I’m with Stephen on the water issue. To mitigate the impact of the unfolding crisis the Government is using ‘salami tactics’ to release data, with a school or estate a day identified as having tainted water. The Democrats probably had a winning hand with this issue, but will squander the opportunity as usual.
We should cut some more trees, they are dangerous. The water is just fine.
Oh God! The morons that run this place. Will we never escape them?
It’s as plain as day to me that there’s been lead in the water in Hong Kong for many more years than we imagine. Beyond a doubt, water contaminated with this plucky little metal flowed copiously into the homes of Lau Kong-wah and Eddie Ng (probably when they were of kindergarten age), and with very few exceptions (who?), into the homes wherein all the other crackpots who make up the Administrative Officer cadre spent their formative years.
To what else but lead poisoning can we attribute the symptoms so readily apparent in the likes of John Tsang and Raymond Tam? A selection (to which I have added a parenthetical gloss) kindly provided by the New York State Department of Health helps illustrate the point. Neurological effects include peripheral neuropathy, fatigue and irritability, impaired concentration (leading to asinine policy decisions), hearing loss (especially when it comes to public opinion), wrist and foot drop, seizures, and encephalopathy while gastrointestinal effects include nausea (not quite as severe as that which the sufferers induce in the general public), dyspepsia (usually the result of public criticism), constipation (resulting from their having their heads up their arses), and colic.
I disagree with you, Hemmers, when you claim that the refusal to distribute water filters to kindergartens is designed to produce droves of compliant zombies for the retail sector. In fact, it stems from the desire of the current generation of senior “civil servants” (who, though lobotomised, are not entirely brain-dead) to ensure a ready supply of Administrative Officers in the future.
This surely cannot bode well for Hong Kong.
@Hills, the ‘water may be ‘fine’ except at the junctions that add that extra special lead sauce. That scandal is widening and should have everyone concerned. Restaurants, food stalls, hospitals, clinics et al. The tree take-down, let’s save the walls, is just symptomatic of the bureaucratic mentality–let’s just ignore the forest for the trees.
It’s an interesting point regarding restaurants, particularly the larger chains located in buildings owned by the big developers.
It’s not as if they would cut corners during construction & use pipes & fittings that would cause problems…..or would they?
Well said, @Maugrim: “Imagine a place in the world where the smallest of kids don’t have access to lead free water on the basis that someone might benefit and ‘win’. ”
This said, it would probably be advantageous if kindergarten’s followed @Big Al and pumped Heineken or, preferably, kegs of Stella into kindergarten water fountains: “Drink beer instead of water. It’s safer.”
Zero lead poisoning issues. And just imagine a three year old coming home pumped on Stella? That would surely increase pressure for larger apartments in Hong Kong.
@scotty dotty. During the Middle Ages in Europe, beer was always considered the safe option for drinking rather than any rat (or worse) infested water. Hence why all of us from a Northern European descent are here on this earth today (they just drank wine in the South).
Let’s get the government on side with this view to subsidise beer and prevent lead poisoning!
With regard to the harbour front redevelopment…… On their annual tax payer expensed jollies, sorry I mean fact finding missions around the world, have the LCSD not seen places like Darling Harbour in Sydney or similar? On that basis why do they not advocate similar treatment for the HK harbour front????
Oh. I’ll get my coat…..
I like this thinking,
*Homer Simpson voiceover* Mmmm… Beer…
Scotty: Except Heineken and Stella for the region are both brewed in China, using mainland water. Still want to stick to that plan?
(Heineken brewed in Hainan and Guangzhou, Stella in Fujian.)
Re waterfront, actually its not tourists first, only the well heeled variety. What the media does not get despite some nudges in the right direction, is that the TST waterfront plan is not an extension of Avenue of the Stars, it is a relocation.
The map that shows this was, very conveniently, not included in the documents posted on the Town Planning Board’s web site Gist. Even if you took the time to go to TPB offices in Quarry Bay you could miss it amid the plethora of documents.
According to drawing A-17 all the statues and handprints will be removed to TST East waterfront. There will be no ‘attractions’ left on the current Avenue of the Stars section of the waterfront. The already more narrow TSTE strip would then be home to the ‘tourist attractions’ plus restaurants, shops, a museum, a visitors centre, additional coach parking bays plus the leftover trees and existing planter boxes, access to three footbridges, lifts, disabled ramps, emergency vehicle access, etc.
Add in 3,000 per hour visitor forecast and it would make Nathan Road look positively comfortable.
This genius plan removes all the proletariat coach tour groups with limited selfie, and more significant, shopping time from the current location giving NWD an exclusive and obstruction free harbour front extension to lots of overpriced restaurants and bars at its new development.
The developer does not need to make revenue from the relocated facilities, the pay back comes from unfettered control over the prime section of the waterfront with the best views.
If this devious arrangement is allowed to go through just imagine the plans developers can cook up to control our public parks. All in the CSR spirit of relieving our cash strapped administration of the burden of the upkeep of what were once considered to be Public Open Spaces, community facilities held in trust by the government for the Free of Charge enjoyment of the community. In other words one of the very few uses of our tax dollars that we actually support.
I used to deal in equipment that relies on drinking water. I will say now that all water in HK is most likely to be above the WHO lead guidelines. You cannot buy “lead free” solder in HK, at least I and my local colleagues have never found it you get blank stares at wholesale shops. I buy mine from the UK and ship it over. That being said the solder is a red-herring, the contact area of the solder to the water is miniscule compared with the taps, valve, elbows etc.
Also all pipes, valves etc.. are the same brands sold in all the shops so it would mean private estate or public estate are all in the same boat.
It is to be expected that newer estates would have a higher lead reading than older estates simply because the pipes and fittings are new and the metal is able to leech into the water. Over the years the limescale and dirt forms a concretion that effectively coats the pipes, covering the brass and solder and seals the pipes, preventing metal leeching into the water. That is why you have houses in europe still safely using lead pipes in their system.
Whilst brass is still around, you will have lead in the water. Buy a fancy italian coffee machine and you will also have lead in the water. Some Italian machines come with a health warning when sold in the US for example.
@Mary and Cassowary: Standing ovation.
Thank you Mary Melville!
For all you beer fans, let’s hope the water through ‘contaminated pipes and fittings’ they use to brew the beer locally doesn’t have the special lead sauce. Boiling the water just concentrates the lead, nickel et al.
That is why I keep bringing up restaurants, food stalls ( and schools, hospitals, clinics and so on) and manufacturers of food stuff.
This is a major Public Health crisis and only a thorough testing of end users will suffice. All private owners corps should test their water and the district councils in the NT should provide testing for village houses. The water dept only monitors the incoming water supply but if the pipes and connections are substandard the end user is screwed.
Thank the great Chinese Industrial Revolution. I suspect they are poisoning their own also.
Good time to breach the great firewall via weibo and warn the comrades that for whom the bell tolls, tolls for thee.
Insightful and informative commenting today @Mary @Cassowary @Spud
And a very plausible argument @Red Dragon
Anyone testing their water supply for lead should run some other tests while they’re at it. I know of at least one company in Hong Kong that found all its premises lead-free but some of them contaminated with Legionella bacteria.
@Mary Melville – don’t worry about the future of public parks. Judging by the gradual shrinking of Victoria Park, the Highways Department has a long-term plan to convert them all into road space, slice by slice.
Apparently friends of Eddie Ng are doing the testing for lead in the schools at about HK$18,000 a pop, using test kits from the USA that only cost about $20 retail, probably 1/4 that wholesale. Give a generous margin of 20 kits per school for all the potable taps and that’s a nice profit.
See, CY and his legion are promoting entrepreneurship.
Did a bit of asking and the primary problem with supplying filters to the kindergartens is that the “approved monopoly” supplier is quite expensive. The government is drawing the funds for the filters from each school’s general operating fund, part of a policy of driving public education into the ground for the benefit of Eddie’s for profit school friends. The kindergartens, being “private” organs, could reject the supplier.
This would prove “embarrassing” to Eddie Ng and all his friends who are benefiting in so many different ways.
My source indicated another approach to shake down the private kindergartens is currently undergoing research at the private rooms of the Kowloon Tong Club this very lunchtime. The issue is how to get money out of the church run and other non-profit kindergartens without extracting too much blood from Eddie’s friends. Stay tuned, a trick will surely be turned soon.
Anyway, it just shows for an entrepreneurial government, every emergency provides a chance to rig more business for their friends & family.
Kudos to Mary Melville on finding the government documenting one half of the graft on TST waterfront. We’ll see the 2nd half in a few years when the various dead weight in the admin and upper civil servant levels retires to their sinecure.
Well, it seems that something was agreed on yesterday at the Kowloon Tong Club.
My source currently knows only that this “consortium” of interest met apparently have a game plan now. No details on what they agreed yet. The cards spelling out how at kindergartens the test will be paid for, and assuming filters are required, how filters will be funded is still being held close to certain bosoms. Lets see if any one at the SCMP or HKFP will ask the relevant questions.
(stripped out all the links to see if this item will post this time. The links can be found by searching HK Government News Releases & SCMP.com)
Example of Eddie Ng’s straight forward dealing here. Ed. Dept claim a school popular with undesirable elements (read dark skin people of Indian subcontinent origin) chose to close down;
when the Education Dept. held a gun to their head and ordered them to stop recruiting before granting them a temporary site, after being forced out of their existing campus while also restricting them from fund raising (using controls under the direct subsidy scheme).
Classic new Hong Kong story:
Baptist stick it to the Catholics, HK Chinese stick it to the HK Indians. Anyone want to guess with whom Adjunct Professor at the Business School of the Hong Kong Baptist University Eddie Ng bends his knees?
PS. Nice example of slick and sick talks: Baptists claiming that the owner only agreed to sell to them after kicking out
darkiesSE Asians, isn’t quite the same thing as saying negotiations to buy only started after SE Asians kicked out.
An article in EJ keeps the heat on about NW and TST waterfront.