Speech – Resumption of Second Reading – Appropriation Bill 2013 (Jeffrey Lam)

President, this Budget carries the style of managing public finances with prudence which the Financial Secretary has adopted all along. However, as Hong Kong is currently affected by the unstable external economic environment, high inflation and exorbitant rents, many enterprises and members of the public are under tremendous pressure. I hope the Government can make proper use of the reserves with a broad vision and a completely new mindset to help members of the public tide over the difficulties, and make long-term commitment to the promotion of industries with competitive edge.

Economic development and improvement of people’s livelihood are not in conflict with prudent management of public finances. They can complement each other. In the last financial year, the Government held a surplus of $65 billion. We should make proper use of the surplus to improve the single-direction development of industries and formulate long-term policies for deep-rooted problems in society, such as problems of housing and ageing population, seizing such opportunities to make long-term investment for the community.

This Budget ties in financially with the development of industries with competitive edge as mentioned by Chief Executive LEUNG Chun-ying in his first policy address. It has also mapped out various concrete measures with regard to finance and logistics, of which I am supportive. Hong Kong needs to maintain its status as a financial, trading and shipping centre in the world. Initiatives proposed in the Budget, including the enhancement of infrastructure and injection of $100 million to establish a training fund for maritime and aviation transport, are necessary and worth our support.

Concerning the need to squarely face the problem of single-direction development of industries as well as support technological innovation and creative industries as explicitly stated in the Policy Address, the industrial and commercial sectors hope that the Government will strengthen its effort to facilitate the development of this type of industries and provide incentives to encourage traders to invest more in scientific research.

President, South Korea’s footing in the development of emerging technologies, which it has secured shortly within some 10 years, is fully attributable to its government’s injection of large amounts of funds in promotion work. Similarly, China’s space program has received huge investment of the country, which has thus pushed forward the development of scientific research. These examples illustrate that as a prerequisite for the promotion of scientific research, the Government must inject plenty of resources. If we look at Hong Kong, our resources in scientific research, on the contrary, lag far behind South Korea and China. In my opinion, the Government should put in more resources in an appropriately proactive manner so as to promote the local technology industries, and provide the industrial and commercial sectors with more support in this regard. We often say that we hope our “dream of technology” will come true. If we do not work faster, it will hardly come true.

On investment in technological development, the funding in the Budget for the six universities in Hong Kong is only $12 million each as the subvention for scientific research. Nowadays, this amount is even not enough for the purchase of a residential unit of 1 000 sq ft. I consider that the Government should enhance its support for the institutions in the light of their actual needs. It should also provide enterprises with bigger incentives to encourage them to enhance scientific research. As proposed by us in the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (the Alliance), the Special Administrative Region Government may offer double or triple tax reduction to encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to invest in scientific research.

On alleviation of problems faced by local enterprises, the Budget has put forward supportive measures for SMEs so that SMEs can have a respite for the moment. A number of these measures have taken the Alliance’s advice, including extending the application period for the concessionary measures under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme, strengthening the support for SMEs through the Export Credit Insurance Corporation, making use of the dedicated fund to assist Hong Kong enterprises in upgrading and restructuring, as well as refunding part of the profits tax to SMEs, waiving the business registration fees and so on. Despite this, I hope the Government will go on to consider the other proposals made by the Alliance to assist SMEs because while the external economic situation is still unclear and the export market remains weak, SMEs are the most vulnerable. At present, prices of raw materials have risen and wages have also increased, but prices of their goods cannot be raised. They are already sort of lucky if they do not suffer a loss. Hence, many SMEs are in a predicament where their business operations cannot make a profit, but if they stop cannot even make a living.

It is mentioned in the Budget that more Design Galleries will be set up for Hong Kong enterprises in Mainland cities other than Beijing and Guangzhou to facilitate Hong Kong enterprises to tap the market in second and third-tier cities. Moreover, the cumulative amount of grant for SMEs under the SME Export Marketing Fund will be increased to $200,000. However, as this kind of promotional activities will cost a lot of money, traders hope that the Government can raise the upper limit and expand the scope.

President, it is certainly important to assist Hong Kong enterprises in tapping the market, yet it is all the more important to offer timely assistance when they encounter difficulties in running their business. For those Hong Kong enterprises which consider coming back to Hong Kong owing to increase in operating costs on the Mainland, the Administration should also help such enterprises to develop in the local market afresh, and capitalize on the competitive edge, such as the business reputation which Hong Kong has established over the years, the simple tax system and advanced information technology, to promote wholesale markets of electronic products, garments, jewellery and gifts.

Besides, another major problem in Hong Kong is shortage of land which has led to the plight in which enterprises have to face exorbitant rents. I hope the Government will consider my earlier proposal of developing underground space. As we have noticed, Qianhai, the area which will become “the Central in Shenzhen” in the future, is particularly creative in the use of space. Although the area is only about 15 sq km, it has made good use of underground space to develop into four storeys, consisting of a shopping mall, restaurants, and so on, thus giving this financial core area an economic impetus.

Earlier, I have suggested that while the large-scale projects of West Kowloon Cultural District and Kai Tak Development Area have not yet commenced, the Government should give consideration or make flexible changes so that apart from developing underground space, more ground level space can also be released. In fact, consideration may also be given to developing the space underneath Victoria Park into an underground commercial district.

Many tourist attractions in the world, for example, Paris, Japan and Singapore, have actively developed underground space for the construction of underground vehicle depots, coliseums, commercial areas, so and so forth. I urge the Government to actively develop underground shopping malls because this kind of space which has genuine potential of providing SMEs with more shop premises while releasing more ground level space. The proposal of this kind of underground shopping malls can achieve two ends at one stroke.

President, all along we have reminded the Government that a number of industries have problem of manpower shortage. We are given to understand that industries such as elderly care, construction and catering services all suffer fro this problem. The Government should face the reality and consider how to help these industries resolve the manpower shortage. In my view, not only does the Government need to allocate more funding to organize training programmes, it also needs to review afresh the actual current situations of various industries and import an appropriate amount of labour on a need basis without affecting the employment of local workers.

An ideal budget needs to comply with the principle of fairness, meaning that it can look after the needs of different social strata in Hong Kong. Apart from ensuring protection for the grassroots, it has to take into account the interests of the middle class. The previous budgets adopted short-term measures to alleviate people’s hardship. However, at the present time of “three highs”, namely, high property prices, high rents and high consumer prices, even though the Budget attempts to ease people’s burden, their quality of life is yet to be improved. Recently, we have seen more members of the middle class who have always worked hard in low profile express their views. I hope the Government can listen to their aspirations carefully and offer them appropriate assistance.

An ambitious and responsible government should not hold onto its money obsessively. It should consider how to utilize the reserves for long-term investment in a reasonable manner, so as to better the basic conditions of Hong Kong and improve people’s livelihood.

President, I concur with the support given to the industries by the Budget. I hope that the Administration will, in response to the rapid development on the Mainland, assist Hong Kong traders in tapping the domestic sales market and establishing their brands by capitalizing on Hong Kong’s advantage in having a free economy and guaranteed quality service, as well as providing more timely support in view of operating difficulties faced by SME. As for relief measures, the needs of the middle class should not be neglected in the Budget as well, and hope more assistance can be offered. Generally speaking, I support the Budget.

However, the Budget needs to be endorsed by us as soon as possible because it involves funding for government policies and expenditures for various economic and livelihood issues which are highly important to the overall operations of society. If endorsement for the Budget is delayed, the social impact will be big, including civil servants not getting paid. In that case, there will be no one to handle the Old Age Living Allowance, Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and public services, while hospital operations may come to a standstill and school classes may have to be suspended as well. If classes are suspended, I guess parents will be unable to go to work because they have to stay at home to look after their children. An even worse scenario is that there will be  no one to clean up the litter. Hong Kong may end up in a terrible mess plagued with stinking smell everywhere. I believe this is not something which the 7 million Hong Kong people wish to see. I hope Members who intend to filibuster will, having regard to the concerns of everyone in the territory and the benefit of the community, pull back before it is too late.

We are resolutely opposed to filibustering. On this, this gentleman is not for turning.

President, I so submit.