Speech – Building a safe city (Priscilla Leung)

Deputy President, I learnt from today’s news report that another Mainland tour has traffic accidents in Taiwan, which killed the tourist guide and injured more than 20 people. The earlier incident of hot air balloon crash in Egypt is still unforgettable to Hong Kong people, in which some Hong Kong visitors were burnt to death in a hot air balloon in Egypt. The Philippines hostage incident has even left a very painful memory for us.

Imagining that Hong Kong is relatively safer than the abovementioned places, we have all along thought that Hong Kong is a safe place to many people. However, the tragic fire in Fa Yuen Street, the building collapse in To Kwa Wan, the Lamma maritime disaster as well as the “618” landslide incident which happened long ago, have tolled an alarm bell for many visitors and Hong Kong people that Hong Kong does have various safety problems.

According to a colleague, the fact that Hong Kong has been excluded from the ranking list on China’s safest cities may not truly reflect the reality. I nonetheless consider such ranking lists a reminder. Some of us probably do not or are reluctant to believe that Hong Kong has been excluded from the ranking list, thinking that this is impossible. But to me, should we first reflect upon ourselves why we will soon or have been excluded from the ranking list on China’s safest cities?

Hong Kong has all along imagined itself to be superior to other Mainland cities, but the fact is that we have not only been excluded from the ranking list of competitiveness, but also the ranking list of safety. According to those ranking agencies, Macao, Shenzhen and Taipei are superior to Hong Kong. I would see this as a scourge and it is worthwhile for us to reflect upon ourselves.

As many colleagues have just said, the tragic fire in Fa Yuen Street might involve the issue of sub-divided units or fire safety facilities, or probably building structure, as in the case of building collapse in To Kwa Wan. I remember that when the Government submitted the relevant report back then, I have described it as a “three-nots” report, namely “not responsible”, “not serious to the problem” and “not acceptable”.

The Lamma maritime disaster has actually revealed another problem: Apart from the environmental and safety problems caused by natural or man-made disasters, is our bureaucratic structure also full of problems? For example, in the building collapse incident at Ma Tau Wai Road, the Buildings Department had already sounded alarms before the incident. Some dangerous flats have received warnings time and again in these few years, but no action has ever been taken by the authorities and the matter was then shelved. The building concerned precisely belongs to this category.

Again, the Lamma maritime disaster reveals that Hong Kong people are  very complacent and there are problems which they have never thought of. And, touch wood, no one would have imagined to see a maritime disaster in Hong Kong. Looking at the existing compensatory schemes of the Social Welfare Department, it can be seen that the Government has never imagined a maritime disaster like this happening in Hong Kong.

The existing assistance schemes include the Traffic Accident Victims Assistance Scheme, Criminal and Law Enforcement Injuries Compensation Scheme and Emergency Relief Fund. These are standing schemes providing financial assistance to the victims. What is the coverage of the Traffic Accident Victims Assistance Scheme? It covers victims of road traffic accidents, but not maritime disasters, and their families. The Emergency Relief Fund, on the other hand, requires that financial assistance be provided only to persons in need of urgent relief as a result of flooding, fire, typhoon, landslide or other natural disasters, and it also does not cover major disasters like the Lamma maritime disaster.

All these assistance schemes have not taken into consideration the possibility of crisis. I do not want to dwell on what else may come, but judging from the narrow coverage of the abovementioned funds and assistance schemes, we can see that the Government has not foreseen any major security crisis in other areas. More sarcastically, the Disaster Relief Fund established by the former Legislative Council in 1993 through a resolution requires that all grants should confine to humanitarian aids within Hong Kong.

I eagerly hope that the authorities will learn from the painful lessons of the tragic fire in Fa Yuen Street and the Lamma maritime disaster, and just as I have proposed time and again in this Council, discard the narrow mindset by establishing a $100 million emergency assistance scheme called “Emergency Contingency Fund” in respect of our environment, building structure, as well as transport and maritime disasters. In case there is major or man-made disaster, prompt assistance can be provided to families of urgent needs. Only by so doing can we look at our security problems by breaking away from the traditional and bureaucratic mindset.

President, I so submit.