Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
How are your students treating you lately? Are they still keeping you on your toes with their rackety yet endearing ways? I hope you had the chance to recharge during the Christmas holidays, and are ready to tackle the new term. Teachers are surely under tremendous stress given the political situation now. I can only imagine your frustration when even I, an outsider of the teaching profession, am so disappointed in our government’s education policy. You are already overstretched in your teaching job. The National Anthem Bill is only adding oil to fire by creating much unnecessary stress and tension.
And all this is for what? For love and respect for the motherland, they say. But how much of this love and respect is genuine, when such feelings are motivated by fear? Love and respect are rare, and there is no way a person can have another person’s love and respect resorting to force, threats, or bribery. The government thought law and punishment could force some national pride out of us, not knowing that these feelings can’t be true when it’s coerced, or they don’t want to know. It’s something to be earned. The people are not puppets or chess pieces to be ordered around. We are all living beings of flesh and blood with our own individual consciousness.
As a teacher, you have explained this so well to me before. No amount of scolding can make a student trust you if you can’t prove yourself deserving of their love and respect. And this is especially true with children. They are always so frank with their feelings. This takes us to another issue with the National Anthem Bill. Who are we to prohibit a child from showing how they really feel? Who are we to police their thoughts and opinion? Who are we to punish a child for dissenting a government that they hold no love for, and that has done nothing to deserve their loyalty? And above all, why are we placing the burden of punishment upon teachers who are already bearing the weight of the world upon their shoulders? It makes no sense to me at all.
To quote the bill itself, it states that those who insult the national anthem are in violation of the law. The word 'insult' brings about a lot of problems. The ambiguity and lack of clarity in its definition could risk abuse. We Hongkongers pride ourselves on our justice system. Hong Kong's laws are not based on subjective wordings, this bill however is an exception to this rule. How can our government ask us to pledge our faith and trust in a law so vague and loose? How can our government ask us to believe in a law that shakes up the very foundation of Hong Kong?
More importantly, how can we trust a government that instills unnecessary fear into its people? The Secretary for Education is placing the brunt of this law's burden upon teachers. Including national anthem in the school curriculum may be justifiable, but to say that teachers should be given the task of disciplining students who 'insult' the national anthem, that is just mindless and irresponsible, when there is no clear definition to the word 'insult'. How are teachers like you, professionals in education and not the law, expected to carry out this task reasonably and adequately?
I know some of your favorite students closely follow Hong Kong politics and have expressed their frustrations about the government through various peaceful means. One of which is to rewrite the lyrics of the national anthem. The bill sees alteration of the national anthem’s lyrics or score a criminal offence, so is to play it or sing it in a distorted or disrespectful way. Through this legislation, the central government managed to deal yet another a blow to our free speech. Not just your students, people around the world have remixed or even rewritten their national anthems to vent their frustrations at their governments. The National Anthem Bill effectively takes away this means of peaceful protest.
Once again, our sunflower souls are beaten and battered by the harsh winds of the administration. I cannot imagine how anyone can even think that respect can be made a law. Following Machiavelli's advice, even ancient rulers knew that genuine love and respect could only earned through dedication and effort. Human hearts are not easily swayed by mere words on paper, even if it’s a law.
Of course, I do hope from the bottom of my heart that one day, each and every Hongkonger can look at the Mainland with love, pride, and respect. Though in light of the attitude harboured by those who are presently in power, I'm afraid this future is still quite far away. Despite this, I hope you can promise me that you will keep your sunflower alive and thrive, no matter what the world throws at you. We have to stand united and unyielding in face of unjust laws.
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