公水私用?

  星期六晚看了港台一個叫「我是地球兒」的節目,談論一些地區把供水私有化的現象,最後導演引申到香港,把供水私有化說成是「領匯翻版」,言下之意是弊多於利,一定要反對到底。

節目的前半部分概述了菲律賓及中國在供水私有化的經驗,雖然調子不離民粹主義式偏頗,但也帶出了第三世界國家把公用事業私營化的利弊,但在節目最後兩分鐘提出了上述那個結論,我自己就覺得很有問題。

首先,香港不同於第三世界國家。後者的問題是國家收入不足以應付支出,沒有能力把資源投放於基礎建設,以致不得不把公用事業出售,包袱便可拋給私人企業。而私企由於要收回成本,水費無可避免地大幅上漲,大大影響了人民的生活水平。當中還有偽善的機構如世界銀行、亞洲開發銀行等從中作梗,以借貸為名逼使這些第三世界國家開放市場,在缺乏經驗下讓西方世界的「大鱷企業」以低價及對己有利的條件買入這些國家資產。香港現時沒有財政壓力,出售供水服務與否,是政府該不該退出公用事業市場的問題。

其次,香港的問題在於以低效率的官僚機構來營運供水服務。水務署從來沒有公開其賬目,它的資本及營運開支隱藏在整個政府賬目之內,根本無法得知其經營表現。不過單從水務署人手之多,以及對其資產的保護之輕視(全港的食水每天有四成流失在滲漏的水管之中!)中可見,這項服務大有改善的空間。現在的水費相對低廉,是因為有稅款補貼,但當中有一大筆款項白花在低效率的官僚身上。私營化後,企業效率提高,錢就更有效地用在改善服務及設備上。政府可以繼續向企業提供稅款補貼,以保持水費在低水平,也可以把補貼款項用來增加綜援金額,令低收入家庭可以負擔提高了的水費。

第三,說領匯是一個「問題」有點斷章取義。傳媒老是喜歡放大屋村商場在領匯接手後,把舊商鋪趕走並加租的問題。沒有提的,是以往在房署低效率管理下,白白讓以稅款建成的商場空置(有些商場更是連營運開支也收不回,結果是浪費了更多納稅人的金錢),更明知大部分店主把鋪位轉租而不取締。現時在領匯的管理下,增收的租金可能還不及以往黑市轉手的租金高。此外,以往大集團及其他連鎖店在低價租用屋村商場時,也從來沒有回饋居民(屋村的百佳超市和其他店的收費並無差別),現在只不過不能謀取暴利吧。領匯接手後自負盈虧,納稅人的稅款可以用在其他地方,而屋村商場人流增多,讓商戶的營商環境改善,也減低了商戶把租金轉嫁在消費者的壓力。

寫這篇只是想大家在思考問題時,以平衡的角度去考慮。民粹主義語言最易打動人心,但未必展現事實的全部。

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4 Comments

  1. 回覆
    nor 2007 年 05 月 08 日

    I haven’t seen the program, but read an article in last month’s Vanity Fair on a similar topic. I think water provision is a very tough problem with real impact on people’s quality of life, but it is impossible to make a clear-cut case for or against privatization. In keeping with your promotion of a balanced view, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts:
    1. I disagree with you when you describe the WB and ADB are "hypocritical". Water resources have to be paid for, either through taxes or fees. In order to help countries build infrastructure, organizations like WB and ADB can either i) lend money to the local gov’t, which is often inexperienced and corrupt, or ii) lend money to the local gov’t and bring in foreign expertise, which is often accused of being a bully. Also, as there are multiple international providers of water services, we should not overlook the effect of competition in the negotiation of contract terms.
    2. As someone who has lived overseas, I have always been in awe of how efficient our gov’t is. Yes, as all bureaucracies in the world, the HK gov’t isn’t 100% efficient – but given the low amount of taxes we pay, the quality of service the HK people enjoy is an envy to the rest of the world.
    3. Wholeheartedly agreed.
    My view is that, given the importance of water resources, the gov’t and the people should have substantial oversight in the service provider, but the operation should be run on a commercial basis to ensure efficiency. Multilateral organizations like the WB and ADB should educate local gov’ts on the basics of water services and how to extract the most from a cooperation with foreigners.
    Last but not least, thanks for encouraging serious thinking on these serious issues in Hong Kong! I find the absence of such discourse from HK blogs a pity, because HK people are (in)famously sharp thinkers.
    版主回覆:(05/08/2007 01:55:00 PM)
    nor,很高興看到你的回應,這些文章一向很少有人回覆。有幾點想和你討論:
    1. 可能我的用語過份苛刻,但WB及ADB在很多第三世界國家的行為,一向都是以第一世界的標準來行事,把西方的"開放市場"和"競爭"硬套入其他國家,而不理會文化和傳統的差別,結果是這些國家和西方企業的交易,一開始就有認知上的差距,事後則引來無休止的爭論。
    2. 我對香港政府的整體表演沒有太大的意見,但在工程行業久了,我對水務署有很深刻的體會,這個部門是所有工程部門中最官僚和低效率的一個,值得大力整頓。
    3. 同意你的見解,不過基於意識形態的不同,WB和ADB能否抽離第一世界的思維去參與其事,我則有些懷疑。

  2. 回覆
    supageti 2007 年 05 月 08 日

    我沒看這節目。
    倒是今早在新聞看到北京景點私有化的報導真令人生氣。
    版主回覆:(05/08/2007 06:43:07 AM)
    有興趣的話,可在網上重看:
    http://www.rthk.org.hk/rthk/tv/newvision2007/

  3. 回覆
    森林 2007 年 05 月 09 日

    我並沒有看港台的那個節目… 只想提出一些layman的看法.
    若將水務私企化, 在沒有競爭下, 如何確保公眾可以以合理的價錢享用"水"此必須品?
    若目標是要加強效率, 可否將之跟郵務一樣, 設立營運基金, 自負盈虧?
    長遠而言, 是否政府的民主化, 方可解決效率問題?
    版主回覆:(05/08/2007 10:01:03 AM)
    森林,可以在投標時讓私企訂下收費,之後每年的增/減可與成本或利潤掛勾,在競投的環境下可確保公眾利益.
    也可設立營運基金,不過在政府架構內人事任命,調撥款項,甚至物料供應等等均沒有自主權,部門首長太多制肘,始終不能達到私營化的效益。有興趣可看看"Public Sector Reform in HK (Anthony Cheung ed.)"這本書,前郵政署長就寫了一篇很精彩的回顧。
    民主化未必可以解決效率問題,西方國家中低效率政府數不勝數。

  4. 回覆
    nor 2007 年 05 月 09 日

    1. I agree with you that there is a huge gap between the culture of ADB and WB and the culture of its client countries. However, my view is that we should be focusing on making it work (e.g. exposing idiotic dealings of the WB or ADB that are results of cultural mismatch, force the banks to change course) rather than writing them off altogether.
    2. I have never dealt directly with WSD but have heard of tales of their bureaucracy… so I agree with you!
    3. Yeah… that’s the biggest problem of WB and ADB. It can never work as promised if its entire staff are from developed countries and are based several time zones away from its clients. ADB is headquartered in Manila, but from all I’ve heard… well its run by the Japanese, who suffered decades of stagnant economy because of… well, we all know how "good" their governance standards are.
    版主回覆:(05/09/2007 02:18:08 AM)
    同意,WB及ADB的確有其貢獻,亦如你所說應有多些第三世界的人參與。

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