CSI Hong Kong

The American TV show Crime Scene Investigation has got to be one of the most successful franchises of all times with the original Las Vegas based one now giving rise to spin-offs in New York and Miami, all three having run for multiple seasons.

The formula is basically the same: dead bodies are discovered, painstaking detective work follows, perpetrators are identified. Sometimes a link is found between what were initially thought to be unrelated crimes.

The producer Jerry Bruckheimer also has many other successful shows under his belt.

I thought of him when considering two major crimes here in Hong Kong: the first is the disappearance of over 4,300 places in international schools, and the second is the loss of our Air Quality Objectives.

Let us set the scene for each.

Every international chamber of commerce in Hong Kong reports that the shortage of places in international schools is now a serious barrier to foreign companies investing in our city and creating in the process thousands of jobs for local people. The senior executives who would head the operations decline to move to Hong Kong until they can be assured that they can bring their families with them.

They soon find that landing a place for their children is incredibly difficult. Every reputable international school has a waiting list a mile long. The horror stories are endless: Macau schools advertising here so that either the children or (more likely) the working parents have to engage in a daily or weekly commute. Families basing themselves in Singapore with the main breadwinner working in Hong Kong and returning "home" only at weekends.

Some companies have even been forced to reconsider their entire business strategy and locate vital business units in other locations simply to appease the key executives who head them.

The Government accepts that the situation is tight but in recent articles and statements our Education Minister Michael Suen and his officials have said the occupancy of places in international schools is running at 88%. That is another way of saying that 12% of the places are vacant.

According to official statistics, there are 48 international (including ESF) schools in Hong Kong providing 36, 150 primary and secondary places. The reported 12% vacancy rate suggests over 4,300 of these places are still available, but no-one seems able to find them.

A mystery on this scale cries out for a top detective to investigate what happened. With the recent sad passing of Peter Falk, it's no good waiting for Columbo. But the good lads and lasses of CSI should be able to get to the bottom of it.

It is a similar story with Hong Kong's Air Quality Objectives. The present set were drawn up in another time – literally another century – when Hong Kong was still a refugee town with hundreds of thousands of desperate people living in squatter huts, fighting to keep a roof over their heads and rice in their bowls.

But now we are one of the world's most advanced and wealthy cities. We even call ourselves "Asia's World City". Yet the air we all breathe every day is absolutely filthy. The pollution is a serious health hazard and yet another disincentive for potential investors to set up here. Why base yourself in Hong Kong where the air might kill you or your asthmatic child when you can go somewhere else not quite as good logistically but at least not need an oxygen mask to survive.

Some years back the government commissioned consultants to draw up more modern and appropriate AQOs, having regard to present day standards. This exercise was to be followed by drawing up an action programme to work towards achieving the new higher standards.

The consultants apparently finished their work in 2009, but the resulting revised AQOs have completely disappeared. Some nasty rumourmongers have suggested that publishing them would confirm publicly just how far away from decent modern standards we are and how many vested interests' feet we would have to step on to achieve them. Perish the thought!

Another one for the laboratory sleuths.

How about it, Jerry? Could you find time for a fourth version of CSI? Hong Kong needs your help.