Defending champions triumph again

From in《The Student Standard》26 May, 2011
Written by Jonathan Chong

South Island School beat Chinese International School to emerge victorious at the 26th Sing Tao Inter-School Debating Competition (English Section) last Friday

THE Grand Final of the inter-school debating competition was held at Queen Elizabeth Stadium (伊利沙伯體育館) on May 20. The motion for the day was: ‘The MTR should withdraw the Fare Adjustment Mechanism’. The defending champions, South Island School (南島中學), were in favour, whereas Chinese International School (漢基國際學校) were against the motion.

  Tiffany Chung, the captain of South Island School, confidently strode up to the front of the stage in her black high-heeled shoes like a high-powered businesswoman and asked the audience, “How many of you took the MTR coming here today?” She was loud, forceful and jabbed her finger at the audience like an irate schoolmaster dealing with a naughty schoolboy.

The battle kicks off
CHUNG, one of the speakers at last year’s debate final, sought to prove that the Fare Adjustment Mechanism (FAM) is unfair, unrepresentative and inflexible. Her opening arguments were delivered with the force of a signal 9 typhoon.

  Resa Ng, the captain of Chinese International School opposition team, bravely fought back by arguing that the FAM ensures sufficient revenue to sustain and expand the MTR Corporation (MTRC) (香港鐵路有限公司). She also argued that the MTRC needed to raise train fares in order to maintain its high-quality service.

  Pavan Hegde, South Island School’s first speaker, eloquently argued that the FAM is not directly related to MTRC’s operating cost. “The MTRC’s main sources of revenues [are] from the government,” he said. “The MTRC is no normal company. Just yesterday, the [government] gave them two plots of land to build and facilitate new [rail] lines for expansion. We [can] see that increasing ticket prices is not helping the MTRC to expand,” he added.

  Sarah Pemberton, the first speaker for Chinese International School, hit back hard, saying that by guaranteeing sufficient funds, the FAM ensures the MTRC remains “an independent, self-sufficient entity.” The opposition team relied on the two arguments of sustainability and self-sufficiency to oppose the motion.

Second half
THE battlefield was then opened up to questions from the floor. Speaking from the floor, one South Island School student asked the Chinese International School team whether the FAM could identify what people could afford. “The FAM takes into account the real wage index, which counts all the wages that Hong Kong people earn,” the opposition team replied. “There is one segment of society [that] has decreasing wages. Perhaps government policy should ensure that these people are dealt with properly, rather than forcing the MTRC to decrease its revenues, and therefore decrease the quality for all MTR users.”

  A student from Chinese International School tried to score a point in this tough match by asking the South Island School team what sort of system should be implemented to improve the FAM. South Island School’s second speaker, Saharsha Karki, first pointed out that the FAM is evaluated every five years. “We cannot wait five years for this [FAM] to go. A survey by the DAB (民建聯) has shown that 60 percent of people don’t want fare increases.” Karki finished by saying, “We need a policy that is transparent, fair and accounts for external factors such as the economic situation.”

Final points
THE last part of the debate was the free debate between both the teams on stage.

  South Island School’s captain asked, “The FAM is legally binding. No external factors are considered when it is implemented, despite changing a price that millions of people will have to pay. Does this sound sensible?” The Chinese International School fought back by saying, “The reason why we have to use this mechanism is that it can ensure that the MTRC can sustain itself in the long-run. The mechanism will help determine when the price should go up or [down]. [The MTRC] will also know whether people are taking the MTR more or less. The opposition side is just worried that if the FAM is withdrawn, the MTR may not be able to maintain funds sufficiently to responsibly approach asset management and commitment to continuous improvement.”

  The closing arguments were given by the team captains. Ng restated the self-sufficiency, self-sustainability and cost-efficiency of the MTRC brought about by the FAM. Chung rounded off the debate by reiterating that the MTRC made a HK$12.06 billion profit through the transport sector alone. She said, the MTRC was not only “sustainable and can maintain its high standards but also able to expand” without the need of the FAM. Perhaps sensing that victory was in sight, she left the stage all smiles and gave hugs to her supporters.

Judges’ comments
Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung (李國章), Emeritus Professor of Surgery of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (香港中文大學), delivered an insightful commentary at the end of the debate. His humorous quip: “I think it is very brave of the boys to argue with women,” directed at the South Island boys, gave rise to laughter and applause. Professor Li offered valuable advice to the debaters.

  “The opposition here missed a wonderful opportunity to attack the word or look at the word ‘withdraw’. To withdraw from the FAM is not possible, because this is a legal document and does not allow unilateral withdrawal. He then highlighted a weakness in the affirmative team’s arguments. “However, perhaps the opposition should agree with the affirmative, because in a capitalist society there should be no restriction on profit-making, but leaving everything to the free market. If that’s the case, would you believe the fare would be increased?” he said.

  Ivan Tong Kam-piu (湯錦標), chief editor of The Standard was also on the judging panel. He was deeply impressed by the high standard of the competition. According to Tong, students’ familiarity with different figures used in the debate was one of the elements leading to an impressive performance. However, he suggested, more real-life examples could have been employed by the students in support of their arguments.

What the winners said
  “This is a really a great experience for me,” Best Debater Pavan Hegde said, expressing how it felt to be a part of the competition. As the debate was around the time of school exams, he said he had mixed feelings.

  Stage fright is common among students not good at debating or public speaking. How did the winners overcome it? “I told myself before the debate: ‘I’ve prepared this case. I know this case inside out. I know everything about it.’ That really gave me a lot of confidence. If I believe in what I say, which I force myself to do so, I think that helps a lot,” Tiffany Chung said.

  Good debaters use a lot of gestures when they speak. Did they actually spend time practising the gestures? “In fact most of the time we’re practising to not move our arms!” Chung said. According to her, the guideline was to make sure the gestures are there but they are not overwhelming.