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POLITICAL ECONOMY
H.K. economy world's freest for 20th consecutive year
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Jan 14, 2014


Anger over alleged torture of maid in Hong Kong
Hong Kong (AFP) Jan 14, 2014 - Migrant worker groups in Hong Kong Tuesday expressed anger over the alleged torture of an Indonesian maid after reports the police were not pursuing the case, which has renewed concerns over the abuse of domestic helpers.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih reportedly returned to Indonesia on January 10 after she was allegedly abused and tortured by her employer over the course of eight months.

Local migrant worker groups said the 23-year-old remained in hospital in central Java, with her condition improving.

"We are very angry with the situation, it's not our first case," Eni Lestari, chairperson at the International Migrants Alliance, told AFP.

"This is just too much. We should question why Indonesians helpers are not even able to help themselves when they are abused," she said, adding that her group planned to stage a protest in the coming days.

Other groups called on the governments of Hong Kong and Indonesia to launch an investigation after local media reports said officers were not treating it as an active criminal case.

"This is very big. Those responsible should go to court. We also request our government to help her come back to Hong Kong so she can report to the police," Mia Sumiati, chairwoman of Komunitas Migrant Indonesia which runs a shelter home for abused maids in Hong Kong, told AFP.

However late Tuesday a police spokesman said a criminal investigation had been launched.

"Upon further investigation, the case is now listed in the category of assault," the spokesman said in an email reply to AFP late Tuesday.

Police had previously refused to investigate the case, the South China Morning Post had reported earlier.

Hong Kong is home to nearly 300,000 maids from mainly Southeast Asian countries -- predominantly Indonesia and the Philippines -- and has come under growing criticism from concern groups over their treatment.

Amnesty International in November condemned the "slavery-like" conditions faced by thousands of Indonesian women who work in the Asian financial hub as domestic staff and accused authorities of "inexcusable" inaction.

It found that Indonesians were exploited by recruitment and placement agencies who seize their documents and charge them excessive fees, with false promises of high salaries and good working conditions.

Local media reports said Sulistyaningsih could have been abused for up to eight months after arriving in Hong Kong in May last year, during her employment with a local family in the former British colony.

Hong Kong on Tuesday retained the title of the world's freest economy for the twentieth year in a row, with rival Singapore closing the gap between the two cities.

The rating shows how the southern Chinese financial hub remains one of the world's friendliest places to do business but there were concerns populist government policies and the perceived level of corruption could tarnish that reputation.

The Index of Economic Freedom for 2014, published annually by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, showed that Hong Kong, along with Singapore, Australia and Switzerland were judged the freest economies in the world.

"[Hong Kong's] overall score is slightly better than last year due to improvements in government size and regulatory efficiency that offset a decline in freedom from corruption," the Heritage Foundation said on its website.

The Asian financial hub recorded its second highest economic freedom score of 90.1 out of 100 and has now topped the table every year since the index was launched in 1995.

"A high degree of market openness, as measured by trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom, has been complemented by a transparent regulatory environment and competitive tax regime," the foundation said.

However, "populist policies that increase spending and empower the administrative bureaucracy, as well as an increasing level of perceived corruption", held the city's overall rating back, it said.

The government in 2012 implemented several measures to curb rising property prices, including an unprecedented bid to restrict the number of non-local homebuyers with a 15 percent property tax on foreign investors after residential prices had jumped 120 percent from 2008.

Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying's administration have been plagued by several scandals, including illegal structures at his luxury home and the resignation of one of his ministers who was found guilty of housing fraud.

The former British colony was returned to China in 1997 and has its own government and legal system, with its residents enjoying rights and freedoms unknown on the Chinese mainland.

But while the city is known for its open approach to business, many locals increasingly fret about the influence of Beijing over other key liberties such as freedom of speech and the ongoing push for universal suffrage.

In the latest rankings Hong Kong was closely followed by Singapore, with a score of 89.4 thanks to a more dynamic and competitive financial sector and an openness to global investment and trade, the foundation said.

The index evaluates four general areas including rule of law, regulatory efficiency, limited government and open markets.

The world average economic freedom score for 2014 was 60.3, slightly higher than last year, and is the highest average in the index's history.

North Korea was ranked the lowest on the index, followed by Cuba and Zimbabwe. Mainland China was ranked 137th.

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