CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
Financial Secretary warns buyers to beware of price bubble: Outgoing Financial Secretary John Tsang issued a fresh warning about the danger of a property price bubble and urged buyers not to "dash mindlessly into the market". The finance chief said there were two "unusual forces" behind the rise, "an environment of super-low interest rates and plentiful liquidity in the system". He also said the global financial crisis had made the market's future "highly uncertain". Tsang said property prices had risen 74 per cent since early 2009 and were 5 per cent higher than in 1997.
C.Y. eyes bigger role in market: HK may take a step back from its renowned attachment to the free market, embracing government intervention when necessary, the chief executive-elect said in Beijing. Leung Chun-ying struck the interventionist note in an interview with Xinhua, saying: "It will be impossible to maintain the city's prosperity and stability if the new government is indifferent to changes in the external environment." The government should intervene to prevent market failure and keep property prices at a level affordable to the public, he said, adding: "My idea is pro-business as well as pro-grass roots.” Leung's campaign motto was "seeking change while preserving stability", but his platform raised fears among the city's business sectors that his reforms might be so rapid that they upset stability.
Bankers could be jailed over dodgy listings: Bankers and brokers may be jailed if they fail to ensure the accuracy of listing prospectuses produced by companies they are sponsoring to join the stock market. Allocating criminal liability for such misdeeds is part of the Securities and Futures Commission's (SFC) plan to improve market quality in light of recent scandals that have tarnished the image of the local bourse. The SFC is expected to propose in a consultation paper that sponsors follow tougher due diligence requirements and should face harsher penalties if they fail to check misleading information in listing prospectuses. The plan, however, is set to face stiff opposition from sponsors and the stock exchange, which relies on income from new listings. Investors support the SFC plan as a way of improving market transparency and investor protection.
'Ripple effect' warning on pay: Major business groups have warned that raising the hourly minimum wage from HK$28 to HK$33 will prompt higher-salaried workers to demand fatter paycheques, as the city government prepares to review the pay law. Since the wage law was passed a year ago, companies gripped by a "ripple effect" raised pay by 5 to 10 per cent after higher-ranked workers demanded thicker pay packets when low-income workers' pay rose, according to Stanley Lau, the vice-chairman of the Federation of HK Industries. "The ripple effect will indeed increase. If they are blindingly calling for a new [wage] level, businesses will only channel the costs to end-users," he said. HK General Chamber of Commerce CEO Shirley Yuen also said any data collected on the minimum wage law's effect at this time would be "premature, incomplete, and perhaps misleading". "The statutory minimum wage was introduced at a time of economic stability and near-full employment, which has masked the true effects of a wage floor," she said in a written statement.
HK is best place in world to get fully connected: HK has scored a global record in connectivity, with mobile phone subscriptions nearly double that of the city's population. Residents also enjoy the cheapest mobile phone tariffs in the world, at as little as 2 US cents per minute, according to a report by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum on information technology. Among 142 places studied, the city came first in mobile network coverage, international internet bandwidth, cellphone subscriptions and affordability of mobile charges.
Chief Executive breaks silence on ICAC arrest of Rafael Hui: Chief Executive Donald Tsang spoke for the first time about the high-profile Independent Commission Against Corruption ICAC arrest of his former right-hand man Rafael Hui along with two property tycoons, saying his administration would spare no effort in fighting graft. Tsang, who himself is involved in an ICAC conflict-of-interest investigation, also vowed that the ICAC would conduct its work without fear or favour. "The ICAC will investigate any case with impartiality and fairness, however high the social status of a person or however senior the ranking of a government official," Tsang said.
My team is no lame duck, says Tsang: Outgoing Chief Executive Donald Tsang denied his government was having transition problems with the incoming administration. Banning private hospitals from admitting pregnant mainlanders is just one of the expected shake-ups after C.Y. Leung takes over on July 1. Doubts have also been cast on the continuity of other policies, including the waste incinerator planned for Shek Kwu Chau, the rent-to-buy housing scheme for the middle class, the mechanism of providing land for development, and the adjustment of MTR fares. Professor Lam Wai-fung, who specialises in public governance at the University of HK, said the five examples demonstrated a need to improve government transition.
Appointment of new Leung aide sparks criticism: Chen Ran, one of Leung's aides during the recent election campaign, has joined the office as a project officer and will hold the post until the end of June, when Leung's administration takes power, the Office of the Chief Executive-elect said. Chen, a former member of the Communist Youth League of China, is not yet a permanent HK resident. Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said allowing a mainlander to take up a political position undermined the principle of “one country, two systems”. New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip said it dealt a blow to the civil service system and set a bad precedent.
Retirement crisis looms for civil service: Two-thirds of top civil servants will reach retirement age in the next decade, raising fears that they will be replaced by inexperienced staff and prompting calls by lawmakers for the compulsory retirement age of 60 to be raised. Denise Yue, secretary for the civil service, rejected the call. "What I've heard from civil service groups is that they are more concerned about the slow promotion for experienced staff rather than the succession problem," Yue said, adding that the government was prepared for the retirements.
Pan-democrats mull one team for 'super seat' fight: Pan-democrats may run under a single team in their bid to win three "super seats" in September's Legislative Council election. But they failed to agree on their strategy. The Democratic Party has "strong reservations" about the proposal. The party wants two teams to contest the five newly created seats in Legco's functional constituency for district councils. They have been dubbed "super seats" because some three million electors will be eligible to vote in the election to fill them, giving the winners a bigger mandate than other lawmakers. Four pan-democratic parties have signalled interest in contesting the seats. The pan-democrats are expected to win two or three of them.
Relations HK - Mainland China
Thousands march on liaison office: Scuffles broke out between police and activists as thousands of people took to the streets in protest on April 1 against what they claimed was Beijing's interference in HK's chief executive election. The clash came as the noisy march approached its end and the crowd started dispersing after reaching the central government's liaison office. Protest organisers claimed 15,000 people took part in the rally, but police put the figure at 5,300. It was the first big protest targeting Leung, who was elected on March 25 as HK's next leader by a 1,193-strong Election Committee packed with the city's elite.
President reiterates call for HK unity: President Hu Jintao pinned high hopes on chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's visions of governance and urged unity in the city after a divisive election. Hu told HK's leader-in-waiting to unite various sectors of the community for the sake of the city. He spoke a day after Premier Wen Jiabao called for a clean government and unity in society. Leung received his official appointment from Wen on April 10. City University political analyst James Sung said Hu's remarks reflected Beijing's continued concerns over Leung's ability to reconcile detractors within the pro-establishment camp after the divisive campaign, and to gain support from the city's businessmen, professional groups and civil servants.
Wives of HK men may get priority: The city may yet grant the mainland wives of HK men priority over those with non-local husbands in giving birth at public hospitals, the security secretary Ambrose Lee says. The apparent softening of the official line came amid a drop of about 50 per cent last month in the number of unregistered mainland mothers-to-be being admitted to accident and emergency wards at public hospitals just before going into labour. He said York Chow, secretary for food and health, was looking into ways to distinguish between mainland mothers-to-be married to locals and those who were not, "so that policies could incline slightly towards [the former]".
Legal affairs and human rights
Illegal structure fines rejected: The development chief ruled out watering down a crackdown on illegal structures in the New Territories by fining owners with unauthorised extra storeys on their homes rather than ordering demolitions. "I have never considered it as a solution," Secretary for Development Carrie Lam said. "I don't think the idea will be supported by the general public. It violates the spirit of rule of law if one is allowed to pay to legalise their offence." Rural powerbrokers the Heung Yee Kuk have urged owners not to register illegal structures, and vowed to fight demolition orders by seeking a judicial review, in the hope that the courts will rule that houses on land granted by the colonial government in 1905 are not covered by the height restrictions. Lam said she would welcome clarification on legal matters from a court ruling.
WHO centre to help smokers quit is launched: Medical professionals from across the region will learn the lessons of HK's success in getting smokers to quit the habit with the launch of the World Health Organisation's first international centre for collaboration on smoking cessation. HK was chosen to host the centre, which brings together experts from different countries to discuss ideas, in recognition of the government's success in helping smokers quit, said Dr Shin Young-soo, the WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific. The new centre will train 100 doctors, nurses and social workers each year from across China and Southeast Asia, said Dr Raymond Ho, head of the department's Tobacco Control Office.
Six years to remedy chronic doctor shortage: The chronic shortage of doctors at public hospitals will not ease until at least 2018, Hospital Authority chief executive Leung Pak-yin says. Leung said the increase in places at medical schools from about 300 to 420 would only start having an impact when students started graduating in 2018. Besides the staff shortage, Leung spoke of a wide range of chronic problems faced by the authority, such as heavy workloads, differences in service quality and variety between the public and private sectors, and the handling of medical blunders.
Concern over bed quota at new hospitals: The government set out its long-awaited tendering conditions for two new private hospitals, drawing criticism from patients' representatives and prospective investors. The move is part of a plan to expand private medical services to improve the balance between public and private medical services. Under unprecedented terms, half the new beds must be reserved for HK residents and obstetric services are capped at 20 per cent of all capacity. On top of that, 30 per cent of all services must be made available at a standard package price that covers all costs, from surgery and medicine to meals. No such restrictions have been placed on private hospital construction in the city's history. One patients' group and a lawmaker said the government should have set stricter conditions to guarantee better care for Hongkongers. Some hospital operators called the restrictions strict and unfair.
Use of slag in public flats to cut carbon emissions: HK's annual carbon emissions will be cut by 3,700 tonnes, thanks to an environmentally friendly initiative of the Housing Authority. The authority says it will save money and reduce its use of cement by mixing it with slag, a cheap by-product of steelmaking, in its annual construction of 15,000 flats. The building material, known as granulated blast-furnace slag, is made by pulverising slag. The process produces 90 per cent less carbon than making cement.
Bureau ditches HK$15b incinerator funding bid: The Environment Bureau has abandoned its HK$23 billion funding request for what it says is an urgently needed waste incinerator and landfill expansion after failing to gain the support of lawmakers from across the political spectrum. Panel members refused to support the bureau in filing its funding request to the public works subcommittee and Finance Committee. Some members cited concerns over government transition, following a remark by chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying on the role of incineration, while others criticised the government for its poor performance on recycling and waste reduction.
Culture and Education
ESF expects government subsidy to stay: The government's subvention for the English Schools Foundation is expected to stay in place for at least another year, despite the lack of progress in a review of funding arrangements for the body. ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay says she is optimistic the annual contribution of HK$283.4 million will remain, despite suggestions last year it would be phased out. The foundation, which runs 21 schools, is preparing to work out next year's fees based on the assumption government support will continue.
HK tycoons named in latest Macau bribes case: Macau's top court has named two HK business tycoons for the first time in a high-profile corruption case involving jailed former secretary for transport and public works Ao Man-long. The names of Joseph Lau and Steven Lo came up at the third trial of Ao's multimillion-patacas graft case in the Court of Final Appeal. Ao, who was sentenced to 28-1/2 years in 2009, entered no plea to six fresh counts of bribe taking and three counts of money laundering. Lo denied having breached any Macau law. He said it was wrong for the media to report that his company won the bid because of Ao's interference.
HK ahead of mainland cities for Asia expats: The mainland's most liveable cities still have years to go before they can catch up with the quality of life in HK for Asian expats, according to a human resources agency. ECA International Asia-Pacific cited higher crime rates, more social and political tension, less developed infrastructure and corruption as reasons for the divide. HK moved up from fifth in Asia last year to third place this year. It also moved up to 11th from 14th in the global ranking. The study takes into account factors such as climate; health risks; goods and services; isolation and infrastructure; recreation; housing and utilities; and personal security. HK scored well on most criteria, but due to its air pollution problems was unable to beat Singapore, which earned the top spot in Asia and globally.
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