Now wash your hands...

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TO FLUSH or not to flush ? That is the question to be debated today by some of Hong Kong's most earnest politicians.

Or to put it another way, can standards really be maintained in a gentlemen's urinal where flushing is restricted to a maximum of four times per hour ?

According to the small army of bureaucrats who run Hong Kong, 15-minute flushing intervals are quite enough to keep public loos clean. They know this is true because the Water Supplies Department has decreed it to be so.

However, the members of Hong Kong's Provisional Urban Council are going to challenge this decree.

Defending the limited flushes will be Michael Arnold, the deputy director of the council's services branch. Four flushes per hour is "standard practice", he told councillors in a written reply.

But the government holds a mighty trump card for dealing with troublesome councillors. It plans to abolish the Urban Council by the end of the year. This will quickly put an end to meddlesome politicians expressing views not just on flushing but on all manner of things.

The council's chairman, Ronald Leung, once declared that clean toilets would be his lasting legacy to Hong Kong. Dr Leung, whose daytime job involves running his own bank, has had mixed results with his clean-up campaign. Some conveniences are still more easily located by their aroma than by any form of signposting.

The limited flushing regime will put his clean legacy in doubt. But the councillors threatened with extinction have little to lose. Mr Arnold cannot expect an easy time.