【明報專訊】TO DEAL WITH the waste problem, the government intends to extend the Tseung Kwan O landfill by five hectares. Many Legislative Council (Legco) members are against it. Yesterday Legco President Tsang Yok-sing allowed a legislator to table a motion to repeal the Chief Executive's order for that purpose. It is to be put to the vote tomorrow. That has triggered an exceptional executive-legislature conflict. Whether the government will give in or bring the issue to court, we will only have a temporary solution. The root of the problem will remain. Hong Kong is an advanced city, but its municipal solid waste (MSW) management is quite backward. Unless we thoroughly mend our ways and formulate a long-term policy on MSW reduction, other places will be marred even if Clear Water Bay Country Park is not.
The conflict involves intricate points of law not readily comprehensive to the general public. However, Legco President Tsang Yok-sing deserves praise for the decision he made yesterday. It is not rare for the executive and the legislature of a place to have different interpretations about their constitutional positions. Such issues often have to be determined in court. The Basic Law provides for Legco's powers and functions. The power to enact, amend or repeal laws is among those Article 73 of the Basic Law expressly confers on Legco, which must not be deprived of it. If most Legco members consider it against the public interest to extend the landfill but Legco has no power to repeal the order in question, its power to supervise the government will certainly be weakened. Tsang's decision, which would help maintain Legco's dignity and status, is worth support. It is worth it even if the controversial issue will eventually have to be taken to court, for the court can clarify it and dispel doubts.
The executive-legislature conflict is only a manifestation of the MSW problem. The Tseung Kwan O landfill will be saturated in 2013. It will last only six more years even if it is extended. The landfills in Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling will be saturated in ten years. The root of the problem is that Hong Kong's policy on MSW management lags more than ten years behind advanced foreign cities'. That by no means becomes Hong Kong's status as a world city.
According to a piece of research by Friends of the Earth, a green group, advanced countries like some European Union members introduced producer responsibility schemes towards the end of the 1990s. The idea is to reduce over-packaging and encourage recycling by legislation or imposing levies. The purpose of doing so is to reduce waste at source.
It is wrong to say the SAR government has done nothing about this problem. In 2005, it released A Policy Framework on the Management of Municipal Solid Waste. It did intend to take policy measures to reduce MSD and encourage recycling. The plastic bag levy was imposed in mid-2009. However, it has yet to decide when to implement measures to encourage full recycling and disposal of food waste, reduce product packaging or impose a weight-based waste disposal charge. It has therefore often been criticised by green groups.
Society must not be content with stopgaps. Citizens must not think the Cheung Kwan O issue is none of their business. Society should seize the opportunity of the Tseung Kwan O landfill controversy to consider seriously how Hong Kong can promptly introduce policies designed to reduce MSD. Hong Kong should try to reduce waste at source, follow the "user pays" principle and put in place statutory regulatory schemes. This is a responsibility all citizens must share.