Hong Kong government must be candid about the true waiting time for public housing

Playing games with the data only gives critics extra ammunition to oppose policies that would otherwise have wider support

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 December, 2015, 2:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 December, 2015, 2:08am

There are good reasons why public policies should come with measurable targets whenever possible. It gives a clear idea of what can be expected of the administration and enables people to judge whether the goals have been achieved. That said, it all hinges on whether officials are honest in telling the people about the progress being made. Take the queue for public housing as an example. Our government has been boasting of its pledge to keep the waiting time to within three years. But a recent probe by the Ombudsman revealed another picture. It was found that the three-year target had been heavily skewed by other fast-track allocations, such as those for elderly tenants. As of June last year, more than half of the applicants had waited longer than three years. Those who have waited for more than four and five years accounted for 27 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.

The promulgation of a policy target inevitably raises expectations. The Housing Department was rightly criticised for presenting a false image of being able to fulfil the three-year target. The information released by the department over the years is not just misleading, it also gives applicants false hope about the waiting time. The misinformation does nothing for the government’s credibility.

With more than 280,000 applications in the queue, the government is understandably facing growing difficulties in meeting the target. But that does not mean officials should play with figures. The pledge will be rendered meaningless if the actual waiting time is longer than expected.

Ultimately, the solution lies in increasing land supply. But this is easier said than done. The housing programmes proposed by the government are still facing strong resistance at the district level. The report is a reminder that the allocation of public rental units is slower than claimed. The government should be more candid about the actual waiting time for different types of applications and, hopefully, they can be used to convince those who doubt the policy objectives.