RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

Broadcast on RTHK Radio 3 on 28 March 1999

The flavor of this week must be Anson Chan's famous charming smiles. But what should be her top objectives now that she's got , shall we say, a second lease on life? Of course she will look after reform of the civil service, which is certainly important, but I will suggest that there are three more things which, in my view are even more important if Hong Kong is to continue to be the international port that we want it to be.

The first is the environment and more particularly air pollution. I was told by the American Chamber of Commerce recently that according to the general views of the members, there are two things which would cause people to leave Hong Kong. The first is air pollution, the second is the erosion of the rule of law.

Nobody will disagree that the air pollution is getting very very serious, particularly in Causeway Bay and in Mongkok. But how did it become so bad? What has the government been doing in the past 5 years? Of all the money available to the Environmental Protection Department, only a very tiny percentage was devoted to air pollution. I have heard Mr. Robert Law, the head of this department explain to me that it's going to take five years and during this time it may get better and then it may get worse again depending on a number of things including the conditions in mainland China. Surely this is not good enough.

I think all parties must start doing something serious about this, and I am prepared to say the buck starts here. Starting from today, I will attend every meeting of the panel for environmental affairs of the Legislative Council on air pollution and I call up on the chairman of every other political party to do the same. Because I think here we can certainly build a consensus and push the government to do more, much more, before it's too late. There are a number of things that the government should be doing, and I hope that Mrs. Anson Chan would give her personal attention to this and that is that there is a general lack of coordination between the Environmental Protection Department and the traffic department. So I want there to be coordination, which is a must. Also, there is no reason why there should not be a separate bureau looking after environmental affairs exclusively.

I now turn to the rule of law. There have been numerous mistakes made by the Justice Department over the past two years culminating in the motion of no confidence debated recently in the Legislative Council and although the government won the day, it was a Pyrrhic Victory, if it can be described as a victory at all. According to recent public opinion polls, the public certainly has lost confidence in the Secretary for Justice if not also the legislators, some of whom of course were pressurized by the government to abstain or to vote against that motion of no confidence. But the outside world is not stupid. And the outside world cannot be so easily won over. They know what's happening. Miss Elsie Leung is a very decent person. She is polite and honest. But I am afraid the job is too big for her. And I think the earlier she is succeeded by a competent lawyer, the better it is for the whole of Hong Kong.

The third thing with which the Chief Secretary should concern herself, and which again requires coordination, is the Year 2000 bug. So far, I think the government is too complacent. Of course they will deny it. The problem is, nobody, including the world's most famous experts in the field knows in what form this bug is going to hit us. But hit is it will. Nobody knows the extent. Then how is the government going to react to that? The problem may not come only from various departments of government. Nor would it only come from within the Hong Kong SAR. It might come from mainland China. How is the government going to react to the worst case scenario?

A few months ago, I was told that on a flight from Hong Kong to Europe, all the toilets failed to function. And all the passengers were given plastic bags. One each. That's not funny if you happened to be on that flight. But at least that flight was provided with plastic bags, enough for everyone. Nobody knows how this will hit us. But we must be prepared. And I call up on the Chief Secretary to coordinate every single department of the government. And she must also look at the community, and help the community to be prepared for this Y2K. For example, we may suddenly find that the flushing system in our residential blocks fails to work at all, because we may never imagine that it has something to do with the computer, or the lifts. And I do not believe that the community generally is prepared at all. There is clearly insufficient public information on that most important issue.

I am sure every one in Hong Kong would like her to succeed on each of the three things I mentioned today. And long may she continue to smile.



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