Time for common sense and togetherness to help move HK forward
This article appeared originally in the CHINADAILY on 16 December, 2020.
Authors: Amy Liu, Managing Editor at Our Hong Kong Foundation
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As the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic brings the city's economic activities to a partial standstill, the government is now forecasting our GDP to decline by 6.1 percent this year. It is clear the city is going through a difficult period. Under this background, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced her delayed Policy Address with a series of measures to support the city. But the government cannot do it alone, as many issues need the understanding and support of the community.
The shortage of land and housing is an issue the chief executive addressed proactively, as she insisted the controversial Lantau Tomorrow Vision project will go ahead. The housing portion of the project will include 70 percent public housing, greatly alleviating the severe shortage of accommodation for the grassroots. Another benefit is the linking up of the transportation networks of Hong Kong Island, North Lantau Island and Tuen Mun.
This project had been met with resistance for years, despite the fact the community has long been complaining about the shortage of land for public housing. Though the government's request for the HK$550 million ($71 million) funding for a feasibility study has just been approved by the Legislative Council, the time frame for readiness for occupation has been delayed by two years. The government's current target is for reclamation to begin in 2027, with the first plot of land delivered to developers in 2030, and the flats would be ready for occupation in 2034. We believe the community should try to understand, and indeed support, the key role this project plays in resolving our land and housing problem.
With the sky-high prices, private flats are out of reach for the grassroots, and that is why it is disappointing that the Policy Address did not mention the Tenants Purchase Scheme. Selling rental public housing will also bring in billions of dollars for the public coffers, helping to ease the government's financial pressure in the midst of the pandemic.
As Hong Kong looks to the future, human resources will be key in the fast-moving global innovation and technology scene. Unfortunately, the city is lagging in this area. The Policy Address announced the government will use HK$2 billion to attract overseas talents to our city. The plan involves recruiting hundreds of outstanding scholars within five years to provide upstream expertise in the universities. Fintech, life sciences, artificial intelligence, and big data are the major areas of innovation that require top talents, and that is why Hong Kong must not waste any time recruiting the right people.
Hong Kong is blessed with world-class research capacities in its universities. With the fast-growing economy on the mainland, the city's research work should expand beyond the Lo Wu boundary. The Policy Address stated the government will support and facilitate local universities to expand to other cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which would help to materialize the "industry-research-academic" development model that we have long advocated.
With the arrival of 5G, we believe it is important the government should take a leading role to pilot test 5G products in public facilities such as the airport, railways, hospitals, public housing estates and government offices. This will help to accelerate product upgrades while raising the public's awareness.
Every year, some 30,000 university students graduate and look for jobs. The Policy Address announced the government is launching the Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme to provide a monthly subsidy of at least HK$10,000 to a company hiring a Hong Kong graduate for 12 to 18 months, with a quota of 2,000. With the pandemic affecting the economy and the job market, this is a precious opportunity for young people to gain valuable experience in a world-leading innovation and technology region.
The Policy Address also announced support for the creative industries, with a total of HK$100 million earmarked for the Arts and Sport Development Fund, the Innovation and Technology Fund, the Film Development Fund, and the CreateSmart Initiative to implement projects that integrate technology and arts.
Back in 2018, Mrs Lam said Hong Kong's healthcare for the grassroots was 30 years behind. The Policy Address has now reported on what had been done. The first District Health Centre in Kwai Ching has been in service since last September. We are pleased to see the increased emphases on healthcare for the grassroots, and are looking forward to seeing health centers in all 18 districts.
With the shortage of doctors, we have long advocated importing overseas doctors. On Nov 18, the Legislative Council overwhelmingly passed a non-binding motion for establishing a system for importing non-local doctors. But there was no follow-up in the Policy Address. Mrs Lam later said she hoped to resolve the issue during her term of office, looking into the possibility of gradually relaxing the threshold for non-local doctors practicing in Hong Kong. Despite the fact that both the chief executive and most members of the Legislative Council want to import doctors, their view is not shared by the medical profession. We hope our doctors will put the interest of patients first and agree to relax the importation of non-local doctors.
With the COVID-19 pandemic passing its first anniversary, Hong Kong has demonstrated a positive spirit by being one of the world's most united and determined cities in fighting the disease. The city is still facing a long list of challenges, spanning health, the economy, politics and livelihood. Though the chief executive has announced policies to solve problems and create economic opportunities, it is important the community uses common sense when discussing policies, while retaining our togetherness, as it is the only way Hong Kong can move forward together.