A Letter to the Elderly and Young people of Hong Kong by Arisina Ma Chung-Yee
It is easy to reverence those with power. It is even easier to treat generously those who are valuable and supportive, since it is only human nature. The only thing that tells one about the civilisation and morality of a nation is how the regime treats the weak, those who criticise and condemn, and those who defy. Today, I would like to talk about my take on the predicament of the elderly and youth in Hong Kong.
The care and support services for the elderly in Hong Kong have been lagging quite far behind other developed countries. Many families cannot take care their senior members, and significant number of the elderly are residing in elderly homes. The Code of Practice for Residential Care Homes for Elderly (RCHE), which regulates the operation of elderly homes, was stipulated in the 80s. The regulations have been lenient and loose to allow private elderly homes to prosper. The demand for better quality, government subsided places in subvented homes, far exceeds the supply. Most elderly could only reside in shabby private homes where they were sometimes poorly treated. Despite the frequent occurrence of incidents and negligence, the families of the elderly could only choke with silent fury, since the wait for government subsidized places seemed endless. The Social Welfare Department rarely imposed punishments on residential homes that violated the regulations or replaced them with reputed ones. To shorten the more than 30-month long wait for subvented elderly care services, the government eagerly launched the pilot scheme of residential care service vouchers in 2017, hoping that the elderly would opt for government purchased private home places under the Enhanced Bought Place Scheme [EBPS] of Social Welfare Department. Compared to the worst private elderly homes that charge an overwhelmingly low fee, those government purchased private home places are seems to be decent, but their services are of diverse and inconsistent quality. Recently, the press has reported that an older adult residing in an elderly home was mistakenly given anti-diabetics medication, resulting in health consequences. That elderly home, which was under the higher standard category of EBPS, was also reported to have a rodent infestation.
The Code of Practice did not explicitly state the mandatory requirements concerning air quality and infection control. Outbreaks of seasonal flu or other infectious diseases were found in elderly homes every year. The third wave of COVID-19 has also spread across dozens of elderly homes in Hong Kong. The elderly are the most innocent yet the most affected by the epidemic. They did not attend vibrant social gatherings nor travel abroad nor benefit from economic activities. Yet most COVID-19 patients are older adults, among which some have unfortunately passed away. Even some were not infected, those who were living in elderly homes with outbreak were woken up and brought to quarantine facilities in the middle of night. Most service providers of elderly homes imposed stringent visitation rules, all face-to-face visits by family members were terminated, the elderly were separated from their families for months. Many day care centers suspended their services for infection control reason, the elderly deprived of the community support and rehabilitation services they had the right to receive. How did the government officials respond to these? There was no apology, no condolence, not even a promise to evaluate the residential care services for the elderly.
It has been more than a year since the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement began. The movement has left a deep wound on the young people. Some were hindered academically, some injured physically or psychologically, some lost their freedom behind bars, some were exiled and some (whose names were known as well as those who were not) have even lost their lives because of the movement. Last year, two young protestors, a six former and a diploma student, were shot with live ammunition by the police. Fortunately, they have escaped from the grip of the Grim Reaper but the injury left severe health consequences and now they have to go on lengthy trials as well. Although the young people should face legal responsibilities for disrupting social order, the police are also expected to treat them fairly and professionally, it is obviously not what we observed. Out of disappointment and fear, some people have parted ways with their families and friends and left Hong Kong for good. Twelve Hong Kong citizens, among which some are underage, were detained by mainland police in Yantian, Shenzhen for allegedly crossing the border. Although the 12 citizens attempted to flee to Taiwan are involved in pending criminal cases in Hong Kong, the government should show concern for their well-being in Shenzhen and provide their families with adequate assistance.
Not only do those in political power have no mercy for the younger generation, they are also resentful towards the professionals who have helped the young people, spoken up for social justice and criticized the government. Health care workers, the press, social workers, religious figures and legal professionals have all been attacked by the politically influential government officials. Those in power never reflected on their shortcomings in governance. Instead, they blame the educators for instigating the youth and aggressively suppress them to ensure no educator would ever teach the students to think critically and independently.
Dear seniors and young people, it has surely been difficult just to live a life in Hong Kong nowadays. The circumstances might have left you feeling very devastated. We could not quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet but with conscience, HongKongers will unite and get through this bumpy ride together with you.
It was a pleasure meeting you and your family again at the dinner yesterday. You told me that you were planning to buy an off-plan shop and acondominium in London, which can be used as an investment and a temporary home for your son who will go there to study soon. We did not have much time discussing this topic over the dinner table, but as the Chairman of the Estate Agents Authority, I would like to share some advice with you so that you would not commit mistakes others have made.
In recent years, the trend of Hong Kong people purchasing non-local properties is on the rise. The risk they face is high especially when purchasing uncompleted properties situated outside Hong Kong.
There is a pattern for bad property investment experiences. First, the property concerned is uncompleted. Secondly, the purchase transaction is closed on remote basis with inadequate due diligence done by the buyer. Thirdly, attractive incentives or investment returns are offered by the foreign developer. When these three factors come together, it is highly likely that the investment would turn sour.
Of the 65 complaint files opened by the Authority this year, most of them were related to uncompleted properties Some of them were about misrepresentation on the location of the properties or the identity of the developer, while some were about misrepresentation on the rental return of the properties.
Most consumers don’t realise that there is currently no relevant legislation or regulations governing the sale of non-local properties in Hong Kong. Selling properties situated outside Hong Kong is not under the purview of the Estate Agents Authority. A person or companyengaging in estate agency work exclusively in relation to properties situated outside Hong Kong is exempted from the requirement ofobtaining a licence from the Estate Agents Authority.
The risk however could be alleviated if a licensed estate agent is involved in the transaction. This is because he is required to comply with the Estate Agents Ordinance, its subsidiary legislation, Code of Ethics and otherguidelines issued by the Estate Agents Authority or else he may be subject to disciplinary actions by the Authority.
According to a practice circular issued by the Authority in 2017, estate agents are required to obtain a report issued by a reliable authority confirming the vendor’s source of funds or financial arrangement and to provide key information of the development such as the location, tenure, current ownership, subsisting encumbrances etc.
Besides, estate agents must obtain a legal opinion to ascertain whether there are restrictions on foreign ownership before they participate in the sale or the promotional activities and provide a copy of the same to the purchaser, together with a written warning statement and a sales information sheet, before they enter into any agreement with the purchaser.
Moreover, estate agents must verify the accuracy of the information contained in the advertisements and obtain the vendor’s express endorsement in writing before issuance. They must also advise purchasers to seek independent professional advice on the types and amounts of taxes and mortgage terms regarding their own case.
In spite of the above guidelines, consumers should note that the functions of the Estate Agents Authority is to regulate the practice and conduct of licensed estate agents, and discipline those non-compliant ones. It is not the Authority’s function to assist consumers in recovering their loss suffered from propertytransactions. Even if sanction in the form of a fine is imposed by the Authority on non-compliant licensees, the fine will go to the government and not the consumers. Consumers should be wary that they need to negotiate with the developers direct or seek independent legal advice by themselves in pursuing any loss against any parties.
Thus, consumers are strongly advised to do their own homework and consider thoroughly the risks they face before making a purchasedecision. They must consider various factors such as location of the property, property details, payment terms, financing arrangements, and purpose of their investment etc. Consumers may visit the website at smart.eaa.org.hk or obtain a copy of the booklet titled “Purchasing Non-local Properties Be SMART” from the Authority to learn more information about purchasing properties situated outside Hong Kong.
Though licensed estate agents are better regulated than unlicensed ones, consumer should still bear in mind that even if the transaction is handled by licensed estate agents who fulfill all the relevant guidelines in their practice, there could still be potential risks in buying properties situated outside Hong Kong, particularly the uncompleted ones.
For example, the developer may fail to complete the construction of the properties on schedule or may even fail to complete it at all. Making a trip to inspect the site and consult local professional is perhaps costly and time consuming, but it is a major investment decision worthy of the hasslesinvolved.
Another popular category of complaints is about rental return. A developer's promise of investment return is skeptical. How can itrealistically forecast the return before the development is completed, occupied, or even in operation? If the developer guarantees an attractive return, it is either taking a major business risk or is not serious with the offer.Choosing to believe the guarantee at face valueis again a risky decision.
The Estate Agents Authority has handled a real case of similar nature. A complainant purchased a shop in an uncompleted shopping mall in the Mainland and concurrently signed a “rent-back agreement” with the management company. According to the agreement, the management company would handle the leasing of the shop for the purchaser and pay him interest and rent regularly. After receiving a few rental payments,the management company stopped its payment. The purchaser then went to the shopping mall site to find out that the management company had closed down and the construction work had not yet started. A lesson learned from this case isthat consumers should consider carefully whether the guaranteed return offered is legally protected and could genuinely be honoured.
In conclusion, purchasing uncompleted properties situated outside Hong Kong is complicated and risky. There is no guarantee thatuncompleted properties would be completed in time or even completed at all. The utmost importance is to make correct decisions because taking legal actions to recover losses iscomplicated as it concerns laws of different jurisdictions. Hence, apart from relying on the professional service provided by licensed estate agents, consumers should consult their own legal advisor for their own protection.
I hope you will find the above tips useful in making your property purchase decisions. Property investment can be rewarding and therefore it is absolutely worthy of your efforts,diligence, and serious consideration. No matter how much you trust your agent and how reputable the developer is, I strongly suggest that you take a trip to inspect the properties you have in mind before you sign your name above the dotted line.