Paying 10 cents more a day can help clean the harbour
Concluding a review of the sewage services charging scheme, the Environmental Protection Department today (December 28) presented to the Legislative Council Panel on Environmental Affairs its recommendations on the sharing of sewage treatment costs through applying the "polluter-pays" principle in a modest and gradual manner.
The Government is committed to early implementation of Stage 2A of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS). "A total of 450,000 tonnes of virtually untreated sewage are still being discharged into Victoria Harbour from the northern and western shores of Hong Kong Island every day. This is not acceptable and HATS Stage 2A will put an end to this situation," said an EPD spokesman.
While the Government is prepared to shoulder the $8 billion cost of building HATS Stage 2A, and more for other new sewage projects, households and the trades should share the operating costs in accordance with the "polluter-pays" principle. Acknowledging the ultimate goal of full cost recovery, the review recommends an interim goal of 80% cost recovery, to be achieved in 10 years.
"This means that the sewage charge will gradually increase, but it will remain affordable and at the lower end of the global scale. At present, the average household sewage charge amounts to about $11 per month. It will become about $12 next year and $13 the year after next. In 10 years' time, it will have risen to about $27. For most households, the annual increment will be less than 10 cents per day.
"The sewage charge in Hong Kong is very low among developed economies. Taking into account the proposed increment, the sewage charge in 2016-17 (average account of $27 per month) will still be well below that of other cities with a comparable level of development. Currently, 90% of our households pay no more than $20 in sewage charges a month.
"As to the possible impact on lower-income households, Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme recipients will be safeguarded as they are entitled to an allowance that takes the costs of paying for sewage services into account," explained the spokesman.
The impact on the trades is also modest. For example, 80% of restaurants pay a sewage charge of under $500 per month at present. The increment in the initial year will only be around $46 per month. This constitutes a very small proportion of their operating costs.
"The proposed increments are in line with the polluter-pays principle. When the sewage charge was introduced back in 1995, we saw a reduction in water consumption per capita among domestic accounts. We believe the current proposals will have a similar effect, helping to conserve valuable resources."
Despite the proposed sewage charge increments, there would be no reduction in the Government's contribution to the operating expenses of sewage treatment. The amount of subsidy by taxpayers will remain more or less unchanged in the coming 10 years. The additional revenue collected as a result of the increased sewage charge fees will basically be used to fund the operation of new facilities. This is on top of the very large capital cost that the Government pays.
"With everyone contributing a little more, we can help clean up the harbour to a condition suitable for such activities as an annual cross-harbour swim or International Dragon Boat Races. In addition, we can secure adequate resources to operate new facilities that will improve the water quality of various rivers and marine areas in the territory," the spokesman concluded.
An initial review of the trade effluent surcharge has also been conducted. Recommendations include incentives to encourage the relevant trades to step up pollution control, and trade-specific effluent surveys to update the generic pollution level of each trade affected by the effluent surcharge. These are scheduled for completion within 12 months and will form the basis of any adjustment of the trade effluent surcharge rates.
The department will consult the Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs on January 5, 2007. If Legco and the public support the recommendations, the legislative process should be completed in the first half of 2007 and the first increase in the sewage charge will become effective thereafter.
End/Thursday, December 28, 2006