Quotation of the Day

31 July, 2013

垃圾的政治 不便的真相

(信報7月31日評論版)

假設一幢大廈日久失修,火災了,消防隊趕到開水龍頭灌救。住在樓下的你,這時候會不會跑出來阻止,說:『不准灑水!否則我的名貴傢俬就沒了!失火是因為樓上的人抽煙,他們沒有防火意識,業主立案法團又沒有弄好防火裝置。先讓他們把這些問題都糾正了,你們再來吧!』

朋友,肯定你們沒人會提出這種違背常識的建議。可是類似想法在香港的政治與政策討論卻是非常風行,在我們的媒體當中大量複製,在公開論壇佔據了道德高地,在朋友間的私下對話,也成了隔岸觀火的談資。

由於本年度立法會期已過,七月中被中止的擴建堆填區撥款申請,最快要等十月後再提出,屆時政治局面大概只是在醜聞聲中繼續僵持,而將軍澳堆填區卻會在2015年爆滿,我們很快將要開垃圾車把港島南區的垃圾,送到沙頭角邊界的新界東北堆填區。

在這救火關頭,卻有一種流行意見認為:我們垃圾太多,是因為政府推動源頭減廢不力,支持回收再造力度不足;既然如此,你一日不搞好這兩件事,我就一日抵制你的堆填區、焚化爐!更不要說這會影響我的居住環境與樓價。

試問這種意見,不是跟上面救火的例子,一樣可笑嗎?然而,這種意見卻得到很多人支持:
一、地區勢力,包括新界鄉紳、民選區議員等;不論是採用堆填還是焚化,他們都會反對。地區人物,關注的自然是地區問題,立場簡單,可以理解。
二、立法會,本來應該是從全港角度考慮問題,原則上無人敢反對處理垃圾,卻也無人拿得出全面、具體而可行的方案。對於政府的方案,功能組別純粹從狹隘行業利益出發而反對,直選議員則看民情隨風擺柳,但因為通過政府方案只能是有辱無榮,所以不會為了長遠社會利益而干犯眾怒。
三、傳媒,本來應該是最有能力、最無包袱,可以向公眾講出真相甚至移風易俗的力量;但因為長期以來譁眾取寵的市場定位、誇張片面的報導文化,把垃圾的問題簡化為政府的問題,甚至是黃錦星的個人問題,而無視垃圾乃七百萬市民共同製造的基本事實。無它,這種『論述』把我們每個人的責任都清洗得很乾淨,在日漸墮落、問題益增的香港,還有什麼比『自我良好』的感覺來得重要?更能討好人民?

三股力量匯流,加上環保署官員向來過於技術層面的解說,結果讓市民覺得,廢物沒有解決,純粹是因為官僚的無知無能,政府從來沒有通盤方案,只是慣性把廢物推向堆填區和焚化爐這兩個最容易的地方。甚至懷疑政府高層是否陰謀堵塞源頭減廢、循環再造的正道。

官僚機構素有慣性思維的問題。但是堆填區與焚化爐,真的是容易的出路(easy way out)嗎?現代焚化技術上要嚴格監控多種有毒氣體排放,操作不會簡單,否則官員烏紗不保;政治上,也很難向公眾推銷,所以歷經二十年而不果。至於堆填區,上屆政府擴建堆填區的行政命令,給立法會廢掉,現任局長的要求也給否決,可見堆填也不是想當然的那麼容易。

真正容易的方案,反而是用公帑直接大規模津貼回收業,或者施行垃圾徵費。一句話,把垃圾的處理成本交還每一個污染者——也就是我們自己。

這麼淺顯的道理,為什麼做不到?是環保署的官員真的不懂?其實早在1994年初——差不多二十年前,環保署已經意識到,香港產生廢物的速度遠超預期,開始研究減少廢物的方法。末代港督彭定康在1996年的施政報告中(第26段),便宣告名為『減少廢物計劃』的政策將會出台,解釋社區在減廢方面能做的事。

回歸前兩個月,政府就政策初稿咨詢公眾。文件提出減少廢物、延長現有堆填區壽命、降低運輸處理廢物成本的目標;並且確立了依次為下的優先次序:減少製造、回收再造、壓縮棄置。具體措施有目前已經部分落實的堆填區收費、生產者責任計劃等等。『污染者自付』原則也明確在案,和目前咨詢公眾的垃圾徵費,一脈相承。特區政府在回歸後一個月,向臨時立法會匯報了此事,並在1998年11月,由當時的梁寶榮局長宣告展開以此為基礎的《減少廢物綱要計劃》。

必須強調的是,當時的公開文件已經建議,為了要減少廢物體積,計劃研究將先進的廢物焚化發電技術,引進香港,這樣能減少最終棄置於堆填區廢物的份量。因此,多年來部分議員及傳媒所謂政府在焚化爐一事上,缺乏公眾咨詢,完全是百分之一百的廢話、謊言。

基本上,此後歷屆環保局長任內,雖然都有檢討減少廢物的政策,但是大方向沿襲不變。例如2005年,當時的局長廖秀東公佈了《都市固體廢物管理政策大綱(2005-2014)》,便增訂了三項較具體的工作目標。

換句話,減廢、回收的大方向,以及堆填區快將飽滿,香港急切需要現代化焚化設施等等政策,早在回歸前的殖民地政府便已確立,並在過度後為特區政府繼承,歷經三屆政府,橫跨五任局長(梁寶榮、蕭炯柱、任關佩英、廖秀冬、邱騰華)而至今。

如果以上的政策錯誤,立法議員已經有二十年的時間去思考、提出替代方案、教育公眾問題之迫切,卻為何至今還是糾纏不清?縱然個別議員早已退休,他們所屬的政黨,代表的界別,都一直存在,卻為何對堆積二十年的垃圾視而不見?嗅而不覺?在堆填區快要爆滿的一刻,忽然間鼻子變的那麼靈敏,跳出來反對擴建?

也許你覺得梁振英不濟,也許回歸以後的人物都不濟,但這卻也是港英政府的政策啊!我們不一定喜歡某某人當特首或者出任局長,但如果因為兩三人的緣故,要把二十年來整個政府與社會上上下下很多人,致力推動的政策方針都打掉,實屬無理,而且不智。

(完)

25 July, 2013

From the Golden 50 to the Broken 50

July 20, 2013





Executive Councillor Franklin Lam and Tycoon Ronnie Chan had a most interesting public dialogue at Hong Kong Development Forum on July 16.  Their conversation was thought-provoking to anyone seriously thinking about Hong Kong's future.  Unfortunately, for a week the local media in their usual fashion were absorbed in the sensational slur of "big villain", cast upon the Financial Secretary, and nothing more.

The motif of the dialogue is best captured by Mr. Lam's idiosyncratic prophesy that Hong Kong has another 50 golden years ahead, if only we grasp the opportunities right now.  A former financial analyst, Mr. Lam was methodical in thrashing out the statistics : rising retail sales and household incomes, falling dole recipients, low crime rate, huge market within four hours of flight, etc.  Conclusion?  Even as a mature economy, Hong Kong is still growing fast, in spite of sluggish growth everywhere else.

Mr. Lam can be a wonderful sell-side analyst for the Hong Kong & Co.  To him the real danger is the lack of initiative of the government and society to capitalize on our strengths and opportunities offered by China.  We will be losing out to the aggressive infrastructure buildup of our Guangdong neighbors and Singapore.  While they are investing heavily on the future, Hong Kong is sitting on a huge pile of fiscal reserves, enough to build 50 modern universities or hospitals.  If such trend persists, Hong Kong's Golden 50 would be turned into the Broken 50.

Why is this obvious path of development not taken?  To Mr. Ronnie Chan, the answer is purely political.  We suffer from too much democracy.  The press is over-sensational and there is a lack of rationalism in public debate.  Criticism abounds, but constructive alternative proposals are wanting.

The speakers have offered an excellent exposition of the symptoms suffered by the Sick Man of Hong Kong.  Even the prescription is almost half right.  But they fall short of a complete diagnosis and Mr. Chan got it quite wrong in the analysis.

Quoting the American think-tank Freedom House, both speakers concur that while Hong Kong does not have much procedural democracy, we have substantive democracy in terms of liberty and rule of law.

Mr. Chan concedes that universal suffrage is eventually unavoidable, but strongly advocates that the present functional constituencies should be preserved for checks and balance.

It is here that his judgment goes awry.  The dysfunctional functional constituencies are precisely the very reason for Hong Kong's political debacle and lack of initiative in development.  They leave half house of the legislature in the hands of amateurish politicians representing narrow-minded sectoral interests who are best at disagreeing amongst themselves.  No consensus for the wider development of the City is possible in such setting.  Imagine the US Congress represented by one lobbyist for each of the Fortune 500 and you are not far off the mark in understanding the Hong Kong legislature.

A graduate from the US, Mr. Chan praises the original framers of the US Constitution for the brilliant design of the Senate to countervail whimsical public opinion.  That is not entirely incorrect.  But he overlooks that the primary reason for a bicameral Congress is to balance the interests of populous states and smaller states in a federal constitution.

I have singled out Mr. Chan's viewpoint for scrutiny because of three reasons.  First, it is archetypical of the voices of business elites in this City.  Second, it takes on a mantle of rationalism, in contrast with more blatant and baseless objections from the political right wing, and hence is more respectable and needs to be answered.  Third, it is after all erroneous.  Even the elitist US Senate in 1787 had a wider electoral base than Hong Kong's functional constituencies.  This is the biggest crime of the latter: the gross injustice in their formation deprives the government of even the superficial mandate to legitimize its policies for development.  Every policy, however well-intended, is suspected of favoring vested interests to the prejudice of public interest.

The press is sensational, for sure.  Rationalism is receding in Hong Kong, as Mr. Chan rightly asserts.  But this is not without reason.  If one reviews the history of Hong Kong since the handover, paying particular attention to the change of public sentiment, one will notice that rational discourse has been gradually giving way to radical activism.  Just as Mr. Chan and many people in the business community are growing impatient with sluggish infrastructural development, so are many people with the sluggish constitutional development.

There is gathering force in the argument of democrats with respect to the lack of legitimacy of the regime.  Ten years ago the discussion was purely academic.  Now it is chanted by every opinion leader and even high school pupils.

The moral challenge of such argument to the government is still not understood by business elites, for this has never been their forte.  But it is here that the government loses its battle.  Policies for development are not opposed on technical ground - in fact, I seldom see any legislator or media personality as well versed as our technocrats in technical details.  They are lost on moral ground.  This is what our politics is all about.

And the crux to this moral crusade launched by the Opposition lies to a great extent in functional constituencies, widely perceived to be unjust, incompetent, self-serving and decrepit.   Removing this, the Opposition will be dislodged from their moral high ground and much of the sensational criticism, so much abhorred by Mr. Chan, will lose their moral appeal.  Conspiracy theories cast upon so many development projects will fall apart.

On the contrary, to recommend a continuation of the present regime, hailed by Mr. Chan as the best and making up for all the shortcomings of western democracies, is a sure recipe for disaster.  It makes the perfect breeding ground for political radicalism.

Mr. Chan believes that democratic governments worldwide are shortsighted.  Quite true.  But I wonder if undemocratic governments are necessarily farsighted.  I bet even he himself, having lived through the plodding administration of Donald Tsang, would disagree.

Mr. Lam's strategy for the Golden 50 is to build more of everything.  He is right.  We need more shopping malls and commercial building to tame rampant rents, more hospitals and hotels to provide jobs to an army of graduates, more roads and rails to keep foreigners coming, etc.  But unless you get your own house in order, you are unlikely to get started.

It is therefore most unfortunate if the wider spectrum of elites, of whom these two gentlemen might be representative,  still hold on to such political illusion and misconception.  It does appear so, however, judging from the fanatic attacks on the suggested abolition of functional constituencies from Mr. W. K. Lam, Executive Council convener.  If even such most moderate and sensible appeal is barred within the establishment, one shall be very gloomy about the chances of Hong Kong's elites in coming out of the development debacle.  Consequently, we may indeed be living through 50 years of Broken Era.


23 July, 2013

如果我是黃錦星(7月23日《信報財經新聞》評論版)


 

如果我是黃錦星,實在無謂再拖拖拉拉,乾脆跟香港市民來個一清二楚。

環保局長既然是政治任命,便有政治責任。這個責任是什麼?香港的三個堆填區在兩至六年內就會填滿,而且源頭減廢不論如何成功,都不能完全取替堆填,更不是短期內能成事。一句話,香港不但需要堆填區,而且必須馬上開工。

由於擴建需時,因此絕對不可能再留待下任政府,否則今日的垃圾問題,將重蹈昔日房屋問題的覆轍。昔日政府停建居屋,今日劏房為禍;今日不擴建堆填區,兩年後垃圾為患。

作為政治人物,必須讓人民看清楚殘酷的現實、共同面對艱難的決定。即使蒙受一時罵名,也在所不惜。目前社會上的意見領袖,為了不得失市民,為了頭頂亮麗的道德光環,在眾多事情上,一味鼓吹不切實際的幻想,卻無法提出任何具體全面的解決方案。將來垃圾滿地、臭氣熏天的時候,難道香港要每天雇船把垃圾運到海外?可以想像,屆時這些反對堆填的政客、傳媒,又會第一時間跳出來,指責政府後知後覺;環保組織中的浪漫派、標榜另類生活的年輕人,又會指責我們向窮國傾倒垃圾了。

以上的殘酷事實,不是黃錦星今天一人發明出來,而是歷屆政府多年來,一直告知議會和公眾的數字。今天的立法會、區議會,除非能夠提出有理有據的反證,說明政府只是捏造事實、危言聳聽——如果是這樣,黃局長可以馬上鞠躬下台——否則請老老實實的告訴市民,面對每日一萬公噸實實在在的垃圾,你們的方案是什麼?你們的垃圾桶在那裡?

現實是,我們七百萬市民不是生活在石器時代。沒有一個先進國家能夠單單依靠源頭分類、循環再用,便把垃圾減到零。(注一)議員們的空談,只怕在自己的辦公室也做不到。至於收費減廢,政府2012年就都市固體廢物徵費咨詢公眾,雖然得到很多支持,但是根據近年公眾咨詢的經驗,一旦去到具體立法,即使曾經表示支持的政黨也會推倒重來。垃圾收費太低,不足以鼓勵市民減廢;太高,又會被指責罔顧民生。垃圾收費不是差餉電費,不可能補貼;補貼等於誘因失效,自廢武功。

那麼,可以使用高科技方法嗎?可以焚化垃圾嗎?本來,歐、美、日等先進國家早已經在做了。可是,在香港,說了近二十年的綜合廢物管理設施,在2012年4月20日,當上任局長向立法會環保事務委員會要求支持撥款的時候,還是給議員否決了。當時反對的議員,分別有甘乃威、余若薇、葉偉明、張學明、陳偉業等等,這些,都詳細紀錄在立法會的會議記錄上。當時出席的議員,不少今天還坐在議事堂上。(注二)

議員們的理由,無非政府欠缺全面解決廢物的方案,云云。十數年來,技術可行的方案,大抵政府都提出過,這種空洞的反對理由,卻是一字不改,真不知議員們心中的『全面措施』,所指為何?當時政府已是將堆填區與焚化爐一拼提交立法會考慮,何以議員既反對堆填,又反對焚化?難道垃圾會自動消失?

反正,目前的事實是,原定選址落戶石鼓州的焚化爐,目前正被司法覆核卡住。原因是某個長州居民以個人健康為由,入稟法院。況且,先進的廢物處理設施,需要七到八年規劃興建,遠水不能救近火。

以此觀之,道理明確不過:今天我們固然同情將軍澳居民要生活在垃圾堆旁,可是將來全港市民將要生活在垃圾堆下!屆時,那些為了選票而鼓噪吶喊的區議員、立法議員,為了一時名聲而顧左右而言他的傳媒輿論,都要負上道義與政治責任。

不要逃避了!堆填區不是雙普選,解決垃圾問題,不是剝奪你的公民權利,用不上拉布的終極手段,也不用投機取巧地終止辯論,遮掩自己的投票意圖。

不要指責這個政府沒有認受性——這個三歲小孩都知道。難道香港所有問題,都要留待普選後才解決?難道非要把七百萬市民的健康,跟梁振英個人的政治前途——或者你們跟他的個人恩怨,一起埋葬在垃圾堆下?

也不要埋怨行政主導、埋怨沒有政黨政治,埋怨立法會在目前制度下沒有權力執政。撥款與否,這個權力,議員們在目前制度下完全是有的,他們真正缺乏的,只是政治勇氣與承擔;沒有這個,將來實現民主的一天,也不見得能解決垃圾問題。

困擾多年的垃圾問題,充分反映香港政治人物的投機本質:每個人都是那麼大言不慚的滔滔不絕,每個人都是那麼技巧的規避責任、避免決定。香港早晚要為垃圾問題而急就章地尋找辦法,屆時形勢只會更加惡劣,不說別的,單單以上提及的設施,拖延半年,納稅人便要多付出近七十億公帑。(注三)

如果我是黃錦星,便有責任把以上的一切,向全港市民講清講楚,而不是溫溫吞吞的發一封給將軍澳居民的公開信,因為很明顯,戰場不是將軍澳,而是全香港的民心,只有贏得後者的勝利,才可以得到最終的勝利。至於立法會,也不用過度擔憂,因為隨風擺柳的政客,一如過往,隨時會因應民情,改變立場。

當然,如果這一切的努力,仍然沒有辦法說服民眾,作為政治委任的局長,便應該清楚告訴人民,鞠躬下台,辭職以明志。這不是不負責任,反而是最負責任的做法;作為人民公僕,如果已經在自己能力範圍之內,毫不含糊地為人民作出了建議,最終便該讓作為主人翁的人民,自己來決定自己的未來;如果那是人民的選擇,也只能說是香港人的共孽。

注一:亞洲地區的垃圾回收率,由兩成(日本)到六成(南韓)不等。
注二:見立法會環境事務委員會4月20日特別會議紀要。
注三:綜合廢物管理設施第一期,以及新界東北、新界東南、新界西三個堆填區擴建計劃,2012年3月的成本共約230億元,2011年9月約167億元,半年內上漲近70億元。