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The Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA) welcomes the Government’s Policy Address and is pleased to note that it has adopted some of our suggestions on improving the economy and people’s livelihoods. Specifically, these relate to the areas of land use, housing, youth, and support for the disadvantaged. Mr Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, BPA Chairman, described the Policy Address as “pragmatic and progressive”. Mr Andrew Leung anticipates intense opposition to the proposed policies and urges the government to display willpower in garnering public support for policy implementation for the advancement of Hong Kong.
In the area of economic development, the BPA recognizes that the government has put forward a range of proactive policies to expand the scope for developing technology and new industries in Hong Kong. However, it is also important that the government address the problem of Hong Kong’s labour shortage, which could adversely impact the SAR’s economic development and service standards. Dr Lo Wai-kwok, BPA Vice Chairman, stresses that the problem of labour shortage is not confined only to the construction sector but other activities such as elderly services are also badly affected. The BPA therefore urges the Labour Advisory Board to reach a quick consensus on resolving this issue.
Mr Abraham Shek Lai-him, BPA Secretary General, points out that the government has undertaken to import a modest amount of foreign labour although priority on filling jobs would be given to local workers. He says the effects of labour shortage are not limited to a slowdown in infrastructure development but that it also has the undesirable consequence of pushing up construction costs. It is regrettable that some legislators have continued to object blindly to labour importation without proper regard to the welfare and interests of Hong Kong as a whole.
Mr Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, BPA Vice Chairman, says the government’s sudden announcement to suspend the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme (“CIES”) was difficult to understand given there is no inherent contradiction between investment immigration and talents attraction. He notes that as of September 2014, the value associated with CIES was around $160 billion.
Increasing Land and Housing Supply
Mr Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, BPA Vice Chairman, says the latest Policy Address underscores the government’s commitment to increasing land supply to meet demands for local accommodation. Proposals include consideration to the rezoning of green belts, increasing plot ratio, and use of “brownfield sites” to provide residential properties. He urges all parties to work with the government to resolve Hong Kong’s housing problem.
The BPA believes that the Policy Address’ proposal to sell some of the Public Rental Housing (PRH) stock to Green Form applicants under the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) represents a viable solution to providing affordable housing for grassroots families.
It is noted that in a recent HOS application exercise, the Housing Authority had received a large volume of White Form applications that exceeded the quota by 50 times. This is ample evidence that there is pent up demand for home ownership especially from among the middle class. It is therefore imperative that the government addresses the issue and respond to home ownership demands across Hong Kong’s social strata.
Creating Opportunities for Youth Upward Mobility
The Policy Address has suggested setting up a $300 million “Youth Development Fund” to support young people to start their own businesses. The BPA considers the $300 million acceptable at this stage but expects the fund size to be expanded as the scheme becomes more mature.
The BPA also calls on the government to adopt our suggestion for organizing mentorship programmes by recruiting the best and the brightest from the business and professional sectors to provide all-rounded assistance and support to the younger generation in starting their own businesses. The BPA will leverage on its role as a bridge with business and professional sectors to connect with and assist youngsters to advance their careers.
Mr Andrew Leung says that the BPA supports whole-heartedly aspirations by the young entrepreneurs to create their own businesses to the best of their abilities. However, the odds of success would increase exponentially if they were aided by a mentorship programme operated by qualified institutions that had an abundance of business experiences to draw from. Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, BPA LegCo member, points out that the fund should focused on encouraging youths to realise their business plans and to tap into their creative side rather than becoming just another “grand giveaway” programme similar to the Community Care Fund.
The BPA will continue to push the government to expand the middle class to 50% of the total population within the next decade. The government should also encourage people across all levels of society to improve their standing given that a strong middle class population is crucial to a stable society.
Supporting the Disadvantaged
In connection with the $50 billion to be set aside by the government for future retirement protection needs, Mr Jeffrey Lam reiterated the BPA’s objections to a universal pension scheme although he acknowledged that help should be given to those in need. It is therefore important that specifics such as intended recipients and other implementation details be thought through carefully. He urged all parties to provide inputs as and when a consultation was carried out.
Dr Priscilla Leung applauded the government for including the “Water-friendly Culture and Activities” into the Policy Address as had been suggested by the BPA. She also urged the government to put further effort into improving water quality in the Victoria Harbour so as to allow people in Hong Kong people to enjoy this iconic resource.
2015 is an important and challenging year for Hong Kong. Following events arising from intense political differences in 2014, society needs time to recover and to address urgent problems such as the economy and people’s livelihood. The BPA is confident that the Chief Executive will fulfill the suggestions as outlined in the Policy Address, mend differences and reunite Hong Kong on the path to progress.
The BPA looks forward to the unveiling of next month’s Budget Speech, which it hopes will include specific measures to assist the middle class, support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) particularly those affected by the Occupy Movement, and restore the confidence of overseas enterprises and tourists in Hong Kong.