22 October 2016
'The trees are crying' says a note found on the roots of one of the old banyan trees chopped down at Bonham Road. Photo: HKEJ
'The trees are crying' says a note found on the roots of one of the old banyan trees chopped down at Bonham Road. Photo: HKEJ

Lives of trees and people – is HK still a civilized society?

Hongkongers have undergone a massive change in their impression of the city they live in.

We now wonder whether the tap water at home is lead-free.

Old trees on the roadside have suddenly been chopped down by the government, citing public safety.

A man in his 60s died after he collapsed in front of a hospital and it took paramedics 20 minutes to take him inside.

Is Hong Kong still a good place to live?

That should be a question our top government officials, especially Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, should think about.

While Leung is focusing on his plan to win Beijing’s blessing to run for a second term as the city’s chief in 2017, he seems to have forgotten the importance of the livelihood of the people.

After the legislature voted down the 2017 electoral reform package, Leung declared to the public that his government will step up its efforts on livelihood issues.

And … his first plan was to launch a citywide clean-up campaign.

Keeping Hong Kong clean is no doubt important.

But our bureaucrats seems to have no idea about how to deal with issues outside their policy planning process.

Take the chopping down of four old trees in Western district as an example.

The government insisted that it notified the district council about the urgent midnight axing of the trees, but the fact is that it killed the trees to avoid bearing any responsibility for future mishaps after a tree next to them fell last month, injuring two people.

Of course, the government can use public safety as a pretext.

But the incident reflects a real problem: the government’s expert panel on tree management is only a paper tiger without any teeth to protect trees or at least to improve their physical condition using modern methods.

As tree expert Professor Jim Chi-Yung said, the government owes the public an explanation as to why the healthy banyan trees were chopped down without consultation.

Compared with our city’s cold-blooded approach to dealing with century-old trees, Taipei has taken it upon itself to protect these public goods.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je posted a message on his social network site in April last year criticizing the contractor of the controversial Taipei Dome sports stadium for chopping down old trees on the construction site.

“If we can’t treat a tree as a tree, a tree with life, then how can we build a society that treats a human being as a human being?” Ko wrote.

He said Taipei should be a city of life, rather than a city of cement.

In Tainan, a city in southern Taiwan that was hit by Typhoon Soudelor, a century-old tree collapsed under the onslaught of the strong winds.

The Tainan municipal government immediately strengthened the roots and the structure of the two other old trees next to the one that fell, in an effort to help the trees to continue living in the place that had been their home for more than 100 years.

Some Hong Kong internet users were touched by the Taiwan officials’ consideration for the trees and couldn’t help contrasting the chopping down by Hong Kong authorities of the four banyan trees even though they presented no immediate danger and experts had proposed installing supporting structures and trimming their branches instead.

As Ko suggested, a society can’t be people-oriented if it cuts down trees in the prime of their life for no good reason.

Are the officials you and I pay to run Hong Kong treating us as human beings?

Or merely potential obstacles to their career paths?

Hong Kong officials have lost sight of what a government must do to create a better life for all the people it is meant to serve.

Their policies demonstrate, instead, a focus on creating wealth for the richest tycoons.

That’s the reason the government charges high premiums for the land it releases in dribs and drabs, so that the fat-cat developers can build luxury homes to absorb hot money from all over the world.

When have our officials ever made the interest of the people of Hong Kong their top priority?

Take the recent crisis of lead-contaminated water as an example.

The government has promised to replaced all the water pipes suspected of being contaminated.

The residents of the affected housing estates naturally want the new pipes replaced immediately, as lead-free, drinkable tap water is a daily necessity.

But the government urged the residents to be patient, saying the replacement of the pipes will take time.

It appears that the government has done nothing to speed up the process but is merely blaming a lack of workers to do the job, leaving contaminated water to continue to flow into the homes of the residents.

The chief executive and his administration have forgotten the core duties of a people-oriented government.

They do not care too much about what most Hongkongers care about, such as imported food that made dozens of people sick, lead in water that may have made and may be making hundreds if not thousands of men, women and children sick, or even the conservation of old trees — none of which was sick.

Our leaders just focus on pleasing the authorities in Beijing for the sake of their own personal agendas.

Burdened with officials without the heart to listen to the people, Hong Kong is no longer the civilized city we used to know.

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The Tainan municipal government in Taiwan strengthened the roots and the structure of old trees hit by Typhoon Soudelor. Photo: Apple Daily

EJ Insight writer

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