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A number of proposals from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA) have been adopted by the Chief Executive, Mr C Y Leung, in his Policy Address “Seek Change, Maintain Stability, Serve the People with Pragmatism” delivered today (January 16), which dwells much on Hong Kong’s economic development, housing and land supply, environmental protection, poverty alleviation and care for the elderly.
Among them are the BPA proposals regarding economic development and environmental protection, including those on the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) to address the outstanding market access issues, and subsidies to owners to phase out heavily polluting diesel vehicles in an attempt to improve air quality.
In the Policy Address, Mr Leung said that “it is imperative to pursue people’s livelihood and the economy in tandem. Improving people’s livelihood hinges on economic development. We promote economic development for the purpose of improving people’s livelihood, and that in turn will provide a more stable business environment.” His remarks echoed with the BPA’s vision and principles.
The Policy Address specifies the need to work on an overall economic development strategy to promote Hong Kong/Mainland financial development. It also emphasizes the strengthening of Hong Kong’s status as an off-shore Renminbi (RMB) business centre and expansion of our market scale. An Economic Development Commission is to be set up. The BPA agrees that the measures to be taken are a step in the right direction and they are in line with our suggestions on Hong Kong’s financial and commercial development. We will closely monitor the implementation of these measures.
However, the Policy Address fails to attach enough importance to industries and innovative technology. The BPA hopes that the newly-announced Financial Services Development Council and the Economic Development Commission will take on board our views in these areas. We also hope that the upcoming government budget will adopt our ideas to provide SMEs with tax relief measures and extend the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme, through which the business environment in Hong Kong can be further improved.
While the government believes that economic development should take an “adequately proactive” approach, the Policy Address only suggests that assistance be given to the services sector to explore the Mainland market. We believe that the government should lead other sectors as well to expand their markets in the Mainland and overseas.
On the hot topic of housing and land supply which arouses the biggest public concern, Mr Leung has set the right direction by providing an overview of land supply in his Policy Address. The details of land disposal, however, are pending. We hope that in the next few days the officials in charge can provide more substantial information, such as a time table for land zoning, formation and reclamation, and the total area of land to be provided each year. They are all important information that can enhance market transparency and help people decide the right time for them to buy property.
In the short term, we understand that given the objective environmental constraints, the Policy Address is unable to meet the public need for housing.
We welcome the government’s proposal to review industrial land and convert suitable sites for residential use. We also note the Chief Executive’s suggestion that to increase land supply in medium to long term, the government will work on suitable reclamation, rock cavern development, green belt slope areas, and “Government, Institution or Community (GIC) sites. However, we believe that rezoning applications to the Town Planning Board involve due consultation and balancing demands and interests of different stake holders, and that such a time-consuming process means that the government is unlikely to substantially increase the number of new residential units in the next five years.
Mr Leung’s announcements to set aside $10 billion as subsidies to encourage owners to replace their heavily polluting diesel commercial vehicles, to help public vehicles retrofit or replace catalytic converters, and to broadly achieve the new air quality objectives by 2020, to improve water quality of Victoria Harbour and promote a water-friendly culture, are a result of taking the BPA’s recommendations.
On waste reduction, we believe that Hong Kong should focus on reduction at source and recycling. We don’t believe exporting waste, as proposed in the Policy Address, is the right direction to thoroughly resolve the problem.
We welcome the Policy Address proposals on traffic diversion for road harbour crossings and a review of the MTR fare adjustment mechanism. Yet we are cautiously prudent regarding the proposal on bus route rationalization. With a daily volume of 3.8 million bus passengers, Mr Leung’s suggestion that bus services take a complementary role in public transport constitutes a fundamental change that may have a profound impact on the public, with which we are deeply concerned.
While rationalization of bus routes might help improve air pollution and reduce the operating costs of bus companies, questions remain as to how the public will benefit? Is it certain that they will pay less for fares? The government owes the public a clear explanation.
On the Policy Address initiative to set a poverty line, we are concerned about whether the related measures are effective in helping the needy.
Helping the Middle Class
The whole Policy Address gives little coverage to the middle class. We look forward to more concrete measures in the government budget to ease their pressure.
As for the foreign domestic helpers levy, the government has already waived the levy over the past few years. We welcome the formal announcement in the Policy Address that it will be abolished altogether to ease the burden on middle class families.
We held that expanding the voucher scheme is no substitute for 15-year free education. We look forward to the relevant committee suggesting an early implementation of 15-year free education. Separately, we are disappointed at the failure of the Policy Address to make any proposal on ways to improve the quality of tertiary education in the next five years.
We welcome the government’s decision to add hospital beds. Yet the Policy Address fails to come up with concrete measures to address the crucial issue of manpower shortage.
In Mr Leung’s own words, the Policy Address sets out his blueprint and objectives for Hong Kong in the next five years. We all know these ideas very well, and what counts is how he translates them into concrete measures. The Policy Address delivered today doesn’t provide a substantial answer. We hope that in the next few days the relevant officials will come forward to answer the public queries and demonstrate his team’s ability to implement his policies.