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Ten laws that are broken in Hong Kong every day
Occupy Hong Kong protesters were criticised for breaking laws with their street sit-ins, but ordinary Hongkongers flout plenty of them on a daily basis
Hong Kong prides itself on its rule of law, which has been undeniably crucial to the city’s huge success as a global business centre and made it a safe place to live.
“It is fundamental that all persons, regardless of race, rank, politics or religion are subject to the laws of the land,” the Department of Justice states on its website.
Although residents may cherish the promise of equal treatment under the law, however, there’s no guarantee government edicts will be respected. Protesters occupied the streets last year in an unprecedented show of civil disobedience that lasted 79 days, leaving many other residents outraged by the flagrant law breaking. Ironically, many supposedly law-abiding Hongkongers from all walks of life seem content to break the law on a daily basis, not least drivers – who were particularly irked when protesters closed off major roads.
Here are 10 examples of laws broken every day in the city.
It’s 6pm and Chater Road in Central is occupied by multipurpose vehicles double-parked in front of Prince’s Building as their owners shop. Moving traffic is forced into a single lane. Motorists often complain there are not enough parking spaces in the city. The solution? Park wherever you like.
Figures show police ticketed almost 1.2 million drivers for illegal parking last year, with offences ranging from double parking to obstruction – including parking by fire hydrants, stopping on a zebra crossing and ignoring no-parking signs. With about 640,000 licensed vehicles on the road, that’s almost two tickets per vehicle. The penalty for illegal parking is HK$320, but the Legislative Council’s transport panel has recommended a 40 per cent increase to HK$448. It also suggested increasing the number of traffic wardens.
Jaywalking and other pedestrian infractions
In our daily rush, rather than wait patiently for the lights to turn green, many of us jaywalk when there are no vehicles coming – risking an accident and a fine of up to HK$2,000.
Police prosecuted 20,015 pedestrians in 2014 for failing to comply with road safety regulations. As well as jaywalking, they included ignoring directions of a police officer or traffic warden, climbing over a kerbside fence, or taking too long to cross the road (except the elderly).
Taxi refusing hire
It’s 2am after a night of partying in Lan Kwai Fong and you just want to get home – but you may have to pay through the nose for it. In the past year, an increasing number of people have complained about taxi drivers refusing to take them home late at night unless they shell out HK$200 for a 10 minute trip. Commuters report similar problems in rainy weather.
This violates road traffic regulations for public vehicles that states: “No registered owner or driver of a taxi shall charge for the hiring of a taxi a fare exceeding the appropriate scale of fares specified.”
The police prosecuted just 128 taxi drivers for refusing a hire last year.
Littering – Litter on Shek-O Main Beach.
Residents throw out 16,000 tonnes of trash every day, and not all of it reaches the rubbish bin. EcoVision Asia founder Lisa Christensen blames part of the problem on population growth and a slovenly “pick-up-after-me mentality”.
The Environmental Protection Department reports that 28,825 people were fined for littering in the year to March 31, and 7,556 were handed a HK$1,500 fine.
Idling Engines – Drivers can only allow their engines to idle for three minutes.
We see drivers in taxis, minibuses, trucks and private cars sitting with their engines idling every day. They can stay cool in the air conditioning while heating up the streets and poisoning the air for others.
Under the motor vehicle idling ordinance, drivers should not let their engines idle for more than three minutes within a 60-minute period. The law was intended to relieve roadside pollution and, judging by environmental statistics, it hasn’t worked because few drivers could care less. Law enforcement officers sacrificed their lungs to time 1,127 vehicles in 2014, but issued only 46 fixed penalty notices, according to the Environmental Protection Department.
Smoking in public places
Although smoking is banned in indoor public spaces, Hong Kong is the only jurisdiction in the world that punishes smokers rather than the premises in which they have lit up. As a result, some bars quietly allow people to smoke, and the habit can only be stubbed out by enforcement officers on ad hoc inspections. When they enter an establishment, smokers can quickly ditch the evidence.
How effective is that? Not too bad. In 2014, the Tobacco Control Office of the Health Department issued 8,027 fixed penalty notices and summonses to smoking offenders, compared to only 242 in 2012. Already in the first quarter of this year, the TCO has issued 2,061 notices and summonses.
Feeding wild monkeys
Animal lovers may be tempted to offer food to wild animals in country parks, but this is a serious offence. The infraction could become a health issue if the perpetrator gets bitten, catches a virus and then spreads it in the community. Under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance, anyone caught feeding wild monkeys in Kam Shan Country Park and surrounding areas faces a fine of HK$10,000 and a year in jail.
Feeding monkeys is also discouraged to prevent a population boom and the animals straying into urban areas.
Between 2009 and 2013, 547 people were fined for feeding wild animals – mostly monkeys. Unauthorised building works
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his former rival Henry Tang Ying-yen have been embroiled in scandals relating to it. Illegal building work is nothing new in Hong Kong, where we try to maximise our living spaces.
Whether it’s building an extra room on the roof or, in Tang’s case, apparently an indoor swimming pool, entertainment suite and wine cellar, the authorities appear to be slow to rein in offenders. Transgressors are investigated and prosecuted only after someone reports them. In 2014, there were 2,532 prosecutions instigated, of which 1,467 were convicted, 174 were withdrawn or acquitted, and 891 are still ongoing.
Illegal Dumping – Illegally dumped waste in Nam Sang Wai.
Dumped rubbish can contaminate soil and water sources, or cause flooding to create an even bigger mess. Seven government agencies are involved in the prevention of this irresponsible and selfish crime. In 2014, these departments between them managed to get 84 notices issued against alleged offenders, 18 of which cases involved construction waste with a paltry fine of HK$1,500. In more serious offences, involving dumping large waste loads, the EPD convicted 62 cases, with penalties ranging from HK$1,000 to HK$25,000.
Lan Kwai Fong seems to be a hotbed of petty crime late at night. Besides those crooked taxi drivers, there are young delinquents – glassy-eyed teenagers stumbling around or passed out after a lengthy drinking session. One club owner admits to spending more than HK$1 million a year on security to keep young law-breakers out of his bars.
A 2008 survey by the narcotic division of the Security Bureau found 65 percent of secondary students admitted they drank alcohol.