Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
Dear citizens of Hong Kong,
Just as we hope that a new Secretary for Justice may restore and strengthen the rule of law which is so crucial to Hong Kong and the legal profession, Ms. Teresa Cheng has disappointed all of us from the very first day, kick-starting her appointment with blatant mendacity, a hollow apology, and a brazen refusal to step down.
By now, I am sure that all of you are well aware of the new Secretary for Justice’s violation of the law: despite being a chartered engineer who is well-versed in construction law, multiple illegal structures were uncovered in her house. With the cautionary tale of Henry Tang, the former Chief Secretary, one would have imagined that such a terrible blunder would never repeat itself.
If the Administration believes that this scandal will fade and wane like any other, I am afraid it is merely deluding itself. This city needs and deserves a Secretary for Justice who is professional and has the integrity to uphold and defend the rule of law for all of us. As the new leader of legal branch of the government, the society and the legal profession had high expectations for Teresa Cheng, and yet she had trampled on almost every single quality one expects a lawyer, let alone the Secretary for Justice, to have. To say the least, a Secretary for Justice who breaches the law and feigns ignorance for her mistakes is one that falls well below the required threshold. Yet, this scandal of the new Secretary for Justice does not seem to have stopped her from benefitting from the unwavering support by the Administration. Our Chief Executive Ms. Carrie Lam even backed her publicly and required members of the public to exercise tolerance.
All persons are equal before the law, and just because Teresa Cheng is the new Secretary for Justice does not, and should not, make any difference. It is also trite that ignorance of the law excuses no one – not to mention the Secretary for Justice, being an experienced senior counsel herself, could not have been ignorant about the law in the first place. Then what do we make of the rule of law in Hong Kong? How can we trust the government to continue our common law tradition and strengthen the rule of law, when even the Secretary of Justice herself can only barely hang on to her office because of her failure to tell the truth to the public and to comply with the law she proclaims to be the defender of?
It is with much delight that I congratulate Mr. Philip Dykes S.C and his team on their landmark victory in the Bar Association election last week. With Mr. Dykes serving as new Chairman of the Bar Association, it is expected that the Bar will continue to be vocal and outspoken, and will play a key role in protecting Hong Kong’s rule of law as it should and had in the past.
I am optimistic about the city’s future, and I believe the latest Bar Association election is just one of the many examples of Hong Kong citizens standing up and defending the values they cherish. Ultimately, it comes down to us – solicitors, barristers, but also every single citizen of Hong Kong – to stand firm and resolute in the face of our challenge ahead; and it is only together united that Hong Kong can grow stronger.
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