Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
Thank you for the report by the Sub-Committee on Children’s Rights which you submitted to the Legislative Council last week in your capacity as the Sub-Committee’s Chairman. I certainly agree to the views you presented on behalf of the Sub-Committee regarding the improvement of children's rights. I would like to take this opportunity to add some of my personal views for the Government's reference.
We often say: “Children will be our society’s future masters.” and “What you are at the age of 3 will determine what you will be at the age of 80.” The meaning behind these sayings is that how we treat our children today will directly influence their life and the future of our society. To put it simply, what our society will be (in the future) won’t be different from what our children are today.
To examine children's rights in a holistic manner, we need to consider how well Hong Kong has been protecting the rights of children provided for under the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, including their right to life, their right to development, their right to protection and their right to participation.
Many articles in the Convention relate to children’s learning and pressure. For example, Article 27.1 provides that “States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.” and Article 31.1 provides that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”
Do children in Hong Kong enjoy the right to life and the right to protection? Yes, we can say that they do, if we compare Hong Kong with war-torn countries and poverty-stricken territories.
However, I trust that you can still recall two recent cases of suspected child abuse. In one of them, a young girl died. In the other, a young girl became vegetative. Therefore, saying that we should protect children’s rights but paying no attention to the way they live and taking no action to help them to have a warm and caring family amounts to nothing but ‘empty words’.
In public hearings before the Sub-Committee on Children’s Rights, I vividly recall parents repeatedly criticizing the Government for the serious inadequacy of its child care service. As a result of this, they have to choose between taking care of their children and their work, which has given rise to a number of contradictions in life. If the Government can fully consider the impact of a policy on children and the needs of the family when it goes through the various stages of policy-making: advocation, visualization, decision-taking and implementation, the policy concerned would be much better able to meet the needs of our citizens.
As regards children’s right to development, whether our children enjoy this right depends very much on our education system. At a meeting last year, a Primary 2 student recalled that one year earlier, when she was in Primary 1, she had said: “I am very busy with my study. Study is a very difficult thing. I have lots and lots of homework.” Now, one year later, she said: “There is so much homework that it is virtually impossible to finish it. When I manage to finish my homework, there is no time to play.”.
In recent years, there have repeatedly been cases of student suicide. As a representative of the education sector, I am deeply saddened and I am very concerned about the impact of school education on the rights of our children. The protection of children’s right to development should start right at the source, that is, we should reduce pressure arising from our education system, bearing in mind that ‘enjoying leisure’ is an important manifestation of children’s right to development.
Unfortunately, the Government has decided to resume Primary 3 TSA (Territory-wide System Assessment). This ‘baton’ of distorted teaching, despite its so-called ‘fine-tuning’, carries with it the problem of ‘entire-Form examination’. In other words, the source of pressure on teachers and students has not been changed in substance.
Surveys conducted by the Professional Teachers’ Union and surveys conducted by parent groups this year invariably show that Primary 3 TSA has generated a lot of pressure on teachers, students and parents. Even little kids find themselves busy with homework, tuition and exams and deprived of opportunities to have a ‘blank moment’ or a ‘free interval’. This being the case, how can we talk about children ‘enjoying leisure’?
In addition, time allocation in full-time schools has unfortunately meant more teaching hours for children. This explains why it has not been possible to solve the problem of our children having ‘no time to play’, no matter how much we improve the hardware and no matter how many more recreational facilities we build for them. For a child ‘to play’ includes doing physical activities. According to a survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong last year, children and adolescents in Hong Kong performed ‘very badly’ in ‘integrated physical activities’: less than half of our children and adolescents reached the international standard of having one hour a day of moderate-intensity to vigorous-intensity physical activities. Given this, how can we not be concerned about the health of our society's future masters?
As for our children’s right to participation, Hong Kong is not performing well, either.
On the whole, the Government has a responsibility to implement the provisions of United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to ensure adequate protection of our children’s right to participation and expression of views, their right to physical and mental health, their right to freedom from excessive pressure, and their right to the alleviation of poverty and sickness.
Life goes by in the blink of an eye. There came Christmas time, followed by the New Year. Have Santa got you the favorite gift?
In this joyous festive moment, right down Santa Claus' lane are shoppers on a spending spree. Little did we notice though, that the look-alike shops have discreetly rising prices digging deeper into our pockets. Old shops selling stationery and toys like aeroplane chess or grocery have vanished like rain drops in a dessert. Even public housing malls can barely escape the factory-molded plastic surgery-style renovation.
Monotonous malls and chain stores dominated shopping scenes in our city. By eliminating retail outlet diversity, Link REIT is the lead culprit. Back in 2005, the Hong Kong Government founded Link REIT as a cure to the fiscal plight faced by the Housing Authority. The government spun off malls and car park assets in 180 public housing estates. Following this was a stock exchange listing. This privatization proves to be a fundamentally flawed prescription for an ailing problem.
Here's the issue: By ridding a large pool of public assets into private investors' hands, the government let the fat cat off the hook. A cat that ran wild in the house. What's dubious about the government's role in the whole scheme is its failure to keep an eye over these spun-off assets. The government failed to maintain a controlling stake in the spun-off vehicle, leading to today's out-of-control situation.
The creation of Link was an outcome of a government call. Unlike the MTRC, however, it escaped the official reign in the absence of a controlling stake. Contrary to what it's meant for in catering public housing residents, Link brings inconvenience to residents, and worse still, leads to an exodus of small retail shops.
When profit maximization topped the agenda, hefty rent hike followed suit. With limited means, individual tenants were quickly shown the door. Small shops closed one by one. What's next is chain stores and consortium retailer gradually taking over. In 2016 alone, rent surged by 27% in Link-managed mall. Rent increase stood remarkable at 23% and 11% for shops and car parks, respectively. Thanks to tenaciously aggressive management, Link's market cap soared by more than 800% from $20 billion at IPO to $170 billion today. It has proudly emerged as the largest REIT in Asia. Behind the glory is the casualty of thousands of expelled small shops and millions of suffering residents deprived of choices.
It didn't take long for Link to become one of the most unpopular brands in town. Its profound contempt of people's livelihood and appalling CSR record accounted for its classic greed in the public eye.
A cunning wolf is never short of tricks. A bitter twist followed as Link attempted to leave behind this bad taste. Wanting to fade out our property market, Links started to load off Hong Kong assets. Ironically, this time, it's not a sale back to the government. Rather, it's the smaller less-savvy investors. A perfect profit loyalist, Link broke sales down into small individual units in order to get a higher return. Since 2014, the trust disposed 47 malls already, representing 30% of its pre-IPO portfolio. If you believe things can only get better, wait until you see what Link has done to us. The new smaller owners were reluctant to invest in the malls. It didn't help when we have a laissez-faire government. Now, who's willing to pay for less choices with higher prices? Not surprisingly, these malls suffered from poor management and lack of traffic. Long gone are the days with variety and affordable choices. It looks set that the situation is only getting worse as Link continues to pursue this strategy.
As we see it now, the situation has turned into a stalemate. Even today's government has no clue. It's unfortunate that our government was so lacking in vision back then.
Notwithstanding this, however, I am confident that we can put an end to this:
First, the government should take lead in proactively managing and changing the situation. For instance, the government should set up a task force to inspect the disposed assets against illegal land use.
Second, the government can keep things in its radar by participating as a bidder whenever the units are put up for sale.
Third, as a counterbalance tactic, the government should provide for more flea markets and increase the number of shops in the public housing estates. By bringing in competition, smaller operators can benefit from a healthier retail habitat.
Fourth, local public interest group and labor union can help monitor Link by regularly conducting market survey of product prices, rental figures and sales staff payroll.
Together, we can rebuild a healthy and diverse consumer market habitat.
Hong Kong prides itself as a shopping paradise. Not only are we proud of value-for-money deals, we also boast ourselves of the diversity and variety on offer, from mass products to super luxury goods. I sincerely call on our government to take up leadership in the fight against the Link REIT anomaly. Bring us back the breathing space for individuality in the shopping scene.
The more and better choices for consumers, the healthier our retail sector. With this, our society will thrive better in 2018!
Please send my regards to your parents.
With love, Auntie Alice