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In his concluding remark for of the Policy Address, the Chief Executive stressed that it was “imperative to pursue people’s livelihood and the economy in tandem”. This is a belief that is, to a large extent, shared by the BPA. It is however disappointing to note that the reference to economic development is not sufficiently reflected in the contents of the Policy Address, namely, the strategies for economic development are fragmented and piecemeal while the needs of the middle class and SMEs, who are the major contributors to Hong Kong’s economy, have been overlooked. We strongly demand that coverage be given to these key issues in the upcoming 2014-15 Budget.
Comprehensive Youth Support
In our policy submission entitled “Creativity and Upward Mobility for the Future of Hong Kong” to the Chief Executive we put forward more than 200 policy suggestions that were collected from the business, professional and local communities. A recurring theme that emerged was the need for a comprehensive policy on youth support. We are pleased to see that the Policy Address has included policies to enhance the upward mobility of young people, including promoting vocational training and extending the qualification framework to provide them with broader education and career opportunities. The BPA will continue to share our opinions on this very important segment of Hong Kong’s population. Through our extensive networks , we will strive to increase the business and professional sectors’ involvement in youth development so as toprovide stronger support to young people in Hong Kong whether in developing their careers or starting a business.
Enhancement of Infrastructure
Increasing land supply is one of the BPA’s top concerns. In this year’s Policy Address, a handful of measures in tackling land shortage were addressed, including change of land-use, development of green belts, raising plot ratio and exploring the potential use of underground space. We believe that sustainable urban planning should also take into account such factors as transport infrastructure, community development and quality of living issues. We welcome the proposal of a Pilot Scheme for Arbitration on Land Premium, which we regard as being a practical means of streamlining the process on land-use alteration.
However, the key to Hong Kong’s current housing problem lies in adjustments to its high-land price policy. Only when the price of land is lowered can the overheated property market cool off. Since the Policy Address mentioned a number of infrastructure and railway projects to be carried out in the coming year, we have doubts whether the current labour supply would be able to satisfy such demands. We therefore suggest importing labour in both limited numbers and period provided job opportunities for local workers are not affected. This will help ease labour shortages on one hand, and avoid serious unemployment of local workers upon the completion of large-scale infrastructure projects on the other.
Assistance to the Underprivileged
BPA advocates a system of welfare allocation that provides a supplement to low income families according to the hours worked. In addition, the BPA suggests that Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients should be eligible for the welfare benefits even when they are under employee retraining programmes so as to encourage self-reliance. Since 2012, the BPA has been lobbying for an increase in the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme from $500 to $2,000 per annum. By promoting the approach of “money follows the user”, elders would enjoy a wider range of choices in health care service, shorter waiting times, and better care and attention through cooperation between the public and private health care sectors.
The middle class and SMEs have been the pillars of Hong Kong’s economy for the past decades. Therefore, the government should not focus only on assistance for the underprivileged, but also support for the middle class. We therefore call for policies and measures in easing the middle class’ burdens, especially in the forthcoming 2014-15 Budget. Furthermore, the BPA is deeply concerned about suggestions on abolishing the arrangement allowing set-offs against the employer’s share of contributions in cases of severance or long service payments. As the current system has been made after extensive consultation and consideration of all relevant factors, such an abolishment would surely lead to conflicts among stakeholders.
Facilitating Lautau Development
With the impending the completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, we feel that the government should seize this golden opportunity to speed up development on Lantau Island. With its geographical advantages, the island’s tourist capacity can be significantly enhanced by the construction of tourism amenities and facilities. This will also help better distribute benefits and visitor traffic among the local Increased job opportunities from, as well as Hong Kong’s competitive advantage in tourism, and testing and certification are some of the ways we can showcase our capabilities as a key regional powerhouse. Furthermore, the proposed establishment of an Innovation and Technology Bureau would also help in furthering the development of Hong Kong’s economy and to provide new career opportunities for youth development.
‘Creativity’ and ‘Upward mobility’ are integral to the future prosperity of Hong Kong. We are pleased that so many of our recommendations have been adopted in this year’s Policy Address. It is only through an effective pay for performance systemand a “money follows the user” approach that public resources can be used in a fairer and more effective manner, and to encourage employment over the long run. Based on the experience last year, the government should strengthen its communication channels with stakeholders, so that consensus can be reached for the smooth implementation of proposed policies. Furthermore, the government should keep an eye on its long-term financial obligations due to the many welfare and recurrent expenditures in the latest Policy Address.