Friday, 28 April 2017

Hong Kong Landmark Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

There is a strong gay community in Hong Kong, along with its supporters
Breaking News -- A married gay civil servant is now entitled to the same spousal benefits as a heterosexual couple in Hong Kong.

The landmark ruling came down today which could have a massive ripple effect in all sectors, as for a long time the government refused to acknowledge benefits in same-sex marriages.

The High Court refused the Civil Service Bureau's argument that it was denying benefits for same-sex spouses to protect "the integrity of the institution of marriage".

In 2014, senior immigration officer Leung Chun-kwong married his partner Scott Adams in New Zealand. But when Leung tried to change his marital status to be eligible for spousal benefits back in Hong Kong, he was refused, and so he launched a lawsuit against the secretary for the civil service and the commissioner of the Inland Revenue Department.

The High Court ruled a gay couple is entitled to benefits
While the court ruled in favour with Leung with regards to the CSB, he lost his case with the Revenue Department.

In his 44-page judgment, Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming called the bureau's policy "indirect discrimination" and rejected its assertion that the secretary had a justifiable aim "to act in line with the prevailing marriage law of Hong Kong" and not to "undermine the integrity of the institution of marriage... hence safeguarding public order".

Chow wrote: "I am unable to see how denial of 'spousal' benefits to homosexual couples... legally married under foreign laws could or would serve the purpose of not undermining the integrity of the institution of marriage in Hong Kong, or protecting the institution of the traditional family."

Leung said the court's decision had wide-ranging implications. "The government is the biggest employer. The whole of Hong Kong will follow [this decision]."

He urged the government to review its policies and update them instead of wait for legal challenges, a process, he said was stressful, expensive and time consuming.

Rainbow-coloured lions have conservatives very worried!
"We were not asking for special treatment. We simply wanted to be treated fairly and with dignity," he said, adding that the court had "recognized and rectified a fundamental unfairness".

The bureau says it is reviewing the decision with the Justice Department, while the Equal Opportunities Commission urges the government to review its policies and extend equal rights to sexual minorities.

However, when it came to the Inland Revenue Department, Leung was unable to change his marital status to same-sex marriage because a provision in the Inland Revenue Ordinance states clearly that a marriage is between a man and a woman.

Nevertheless, we finally a decision that drags Hong Kong into the 21st century. The city is a fiscally liberal one, and so should its society. Christian conservatives are going to be terrified by this ruling -- they can't even stand having rainbow-coloured replica lions at HSBC in Central.

But this is the reality -- there are same-sex couples in Hong Kong and they deserve to be treated equally under the law. And now they do legally.

Case closed? We hope so.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Arrests in Fight for Democracy

Last November's stand off with police in front of the Liaison Office
This morning nine activists were rounded up on suspected charges of unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct following a rally outside the central government's liaison office last November over the Legislative Council's oath-taking controversy.

The nine included those from Demosisto (Derek Lam Shun-hin and Ivan Lam Long-yin), the League of Social Democrats (Avery Ng Man-yuen and Dickson Chau Ka-faat), and Students Fight for Democracy (Lo Tak-cheung and Sammy Ip Chi-hin).

Avery Ng is dismayed by more arrests of activists like himself
"This is the third time doorstep arrests have been made this year. The political suppression is not over yet!" Ng wrote in a Facebook post. He claimed he had been arrested on two charges of "inciting others to cause disorder in a public place".

This follows the arrest of Youngspiration duo Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, who were charged with unlawful assembly when they tried to force their way into Legco in order to try to retake their oaths on November 2.

It looks like in the last few months of his leadership, Leung Chun-ying doesn't want to show that he's weak, only being able to rule for one term. Or maybe he's promised Beijing to snuff out any kind of pro-independence movement by using the law to shut them up.

By trying to scare people with jail, others may think twice about continuing the fight for democracy in Hong Kong.

Youngspiration's Sixtus Leung & Yau Wai-ching were charged
It's something Amnesty International has pointed out, commenting after the nine arrests this morning.

"The repeated use of vague charges against prominent figures in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement reeks of an orchestrated and retaliatory campaign by the authorities to punish those that advocate for democracy in Hong Kong," said Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

"The Hong Kong government should be protecting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but instead appears intent on intimidating people who are challenging the authorities," she added.

The first test will be on July 1, the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in town for the festivities. Maybe Leung is tasked with getting rid of dissent during Xi's visit, but whatever happened to "one country, two systems"?

Deng Xiaoping himself coined the phrase so why can't the central leadership accept it?

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Even Border Town Flats Cost $$$

Sha Tau Kok is mostly closed off to the 3,000 people living there
Sha Tau Kok is a rural town that is very close to the mainland border, 11 kilometres northeast of Fanling. It was known for being the place where goods and people were smuggled across the border in the 1950s.

But the town was sealed off from the rest of Hong Kong in 1951 onwards when the Communists took power in China, and access to the town was only restricted to local residents until February 2012 when it was partially reopened.

Marin Point is the first development in 17 years
And now developers have come in and are building flats, and starting to sell them.

Far East Consortium International has unveiled its project called Marin Point, the first development in 17 years, and prices range from HK$10,196 to HK$17,815 per square foot.

These are comparable to flats -- both first and second hand -- closer to town.

There are 57 units for sale, with the average price of HK$10,175 per square foot after discounts, while the most expensive flat is a 593-square-foot flat priced at HK$9.6 million. They will be completed in October next year.

Are three-storey houses still relatively cheap in Sha Tau Kok?
To put this into perspective, existing three-storey village houses there went for HK$4,500 to HK$5,000 per square foot in December last year.

However not every one can buy these flats -- only existing Sha Tau Kok residents are allowed to purchase these units, but they are going to make a killing because eventually the frontier town will be fully opened up, and also rising housing prices in Shenzhen at HK$23,000 per square foot in Shenzhen Bay make Marin Point and other flats in Hong Kong look cheap.

How scary is that?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

At the Mercy of Landlords

This hotel has a good location, so why does it need to be knocked down?
A property investment company that owns a hotel in Causeway Bay wants to tear it down and turn it into an office building.

SEA Holdings, a publicly-listed company, recently applied to the Town Planning Board to demolish the 29-storey hotel and turn it into a 22-storey office tower with restaurants and shops.

Why? Because it is more profitable to rent out space on a monthly basis than hire staff to look after hotel rooms and guests, and try to fill them on a daily basis.

Remember the Ritz-Carlton and the Furama in Central?
What's also contentious is that the hotel, the Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Causeway Bay is only eight years old so knocking it down would not only mean more waste in our landfills, but more importantly less rooms for visitors to stay in.

In Central there used to be a handful of hotels like the Hilton, Furama, and Ritz-Carlton; now it's only the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

How can the Hong Kong Tourism Board lure more visitors to the city if more hotels get torn down?

But it seems like there is actually a glut in the market when it comes to hotel rooms in Hong Kong -- many low to mid-range ones are struggling to be able to charge HK$1,000 a night.

The Murray Building will be turned into a hotel by 2018
For example Ibis Hong Kong in Sheung Wan,  charges just under HK$1,000 a night on weekends, but come weekdays, it's just over HK$600 a night.

One critic of the plans to knock down the Crowne Plaza says property developers don't lose a night's sleep squeezing as much as they can out of us, neither do landlords who double our rents -- they think someone else will take it.

That's why these people are called psychopaths.

But in the meantime, The Murray Building in Central used to be an office building and is now being refurbished into a hotel by keeping the outer shell intact.

Quick fixes aren't what we need in Hong Kong. We need a more visonary, steady approach to development. Knocking down an eight-year-old building is not the way to go.