Having formulated a comprehensive framework on a wide range of livelihood issues, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu wrote a maiden Policy Address that seems to have been at once visionary and pragmatic, adopting a results-oriented approach and cutting across almost all sides of the social spectrum.
In touching on so many social ills, it is equally admirable for Lee’s Policy Address to highlight his strategies for brain drain, housing and land supply, the most critical issues in the eyes of Hong Kong residents.
Lee’s Policy Address, in contrast to those of the previous administration, has taken many decisive steps to tackle the pressing issues. For example, over the past year, 113,200 residents have left Hong Kong for different reasons. Given the huge brain drain, the chief executive is resolute in launching a Top Talent Pass Scheme to woo professionals of high salary and graduates of the world’s top 100 universities to develop careers in Hong Kong. Upon becoming permanent residents, eligible talent from outside Hong Kong will be allowed to apply for a refund of the extra stamp duty paid for purchasing property locally.
Having profound sympathy for the underprivileged residing in tiny, subdivided flats or cubicles, Lee once again shows his true grit to lead them out of the housing predicaments. The sensible and daring moves include the promise of increasing public housing production by 50 percent to 158,000 units in the next five years and a decrease in the waiting time for subsidized public rental housing to around 4.5 years in four years’ time. More commendable are other innovative ideas proposed by the Policy Address such as a new Light Public Housing program to increase the number of temporary homes, and a reform of land production procedures to reduce the time for turning “primitive land” into “spade-ready sites” by one-third to one-half, as well as a land reserve in the long run to gain control in land supply.
While Lee has mapped out some well-thought out strategies for long-term challenges, the next daunting task facing his administration is whether it can resolve the conflicts between groups of vested interests involved with government plans. For instance, in the face of xenophobia among the locals or in considering whether a site should be developed, the government of course will accommodate conflicting views and strive to balance different interests. But in reality, it is impossible to reach a full consensus over any issues in a polarized society. Faced with fierce opposition from some self-serving but powerful groups, will the government really have the courage to stick to its policy and resolve to make hard choices and decisions in the best interest of the whole community?
Arguably, the current housing problems and shortage of land supply to a great extent stemmed from the illicit and unwise use of vast tracts of the New Territories. In the past, some officials once showed a willingness to have a rethink on the use of the tracts of woodland in a bid to increase the land supply. However, daunted by a ferocious outcry from powerful groups, the administration backed off. Likewise, the conversion of government, institution or community (GIC) sites and other government sites to residential use in the urban areas are very often thwarted by some narrow-minded and self-seeking district councilors. The authorities once sensibly proposed building a public estate on the seaside of Kowloon West to alleviate the urban housing problem. Sadly, to pander to their middle-class voters with “not in my backyard” syndrome, some district councilors strongly disapproved of the plan. Bowing to the immense pressure from the District Council, the authorities were woefully compelled to shelve such a desirable housing plan.
Although the government has feasible plans for increasing land supply, the only crucial question is whether we can stand united with one vision. Extensive land development takes decades. Surely, most of Lee’s strategies for housing and land supply are intended for our future needs. It is too easy for powerful groups to shun or even oppose new land development out of short-term self-interest. But bear in mind that their shortsighted opposition will inflict lasting housing anguish on our future generations.
In the past, it was without full public support that the government dithered on taking on groups of vested interests who are indifferent to our housing plight. Therefore, it is time for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with the John Lee administration to “chart a brighter tomorrow for Hong Kong”.
The author is a Lecturer at the CPCE, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a former Scouloudi Fellow at London University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.