Housing crunch 'could have been averted'
The government's top policy adviser, Dr Lau Siu-kai, said yesterday that one of the biggest disappointments of his 10-year tenure was the administration's refusal to accept his proposals to relieve the city's housing crunch.
The outgoing Central Policy Unit chief said he urged the government to take a more proactive role in increasing the housing supply and slowing the rise of property prices, but found leaders reluctant.
'We have been researching the land-and-housing issue for several years. We could have done more, years ago,' Lau said during a radio interview. 'We sensed that social grievances had been tremendous, and the people wanted a greater and more proactive government role in the policy arena.
'The housing suggestion was not accepted, as the government wanted to maintain a more prudent role in social development and livelihood issues,' he said.
Lau cited no specific proposals rejected by the government, but said in March that the government should increase the land supply and target parcels specifically for housing instead of just putting them up for sale.
The former Chinese University sociology professor was appointed to the think tank in 2002 by then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, but he is not expected to join the administration of chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying.
During his tenure, Lau has been accused of being out of touch with public sentiment, but yesterday he suggested the government offered only lukewarm support for his efforts to address social problems.
'The government was conservative, creating a gap between government policies and public expectations,' Lau said.
'Coupled with rising property prices and negative incidents involving officials, social sentiments have turned increasingly negative.'
He said such social grievances were 'a pity' because they overshadowed major accomplishments, such as the first minimum-wage law.
Lau also touched on the controversial ministerial, or 'accountability', system established by Tung in 2002. He said a system to allow the executive to select top ministers was inevitable, but suggested the transition may have been carried out too quickly.
'It was the right direction, but there were problems in the system's execution,' Lau said, noting Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's decision to include only Beijing loyalists in his cabinet.
'People think the government was not being fair in picking the appointees. The key is that we find the right appointees. We could have held off on the system and waited until we thought there was enough political talent in Hong Kong.'