All talk and no action on the policy front

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 April, 2010, 12:00am

As a gesture of its departure from positive non-intervention, the government has identified six key industries as new growth engines for Hong Kong's future development. If the administration pursues this policy in earnest, it might be the beginning of an industrial policy for the government, and a new direction for the economy.

Yet, following the pronouncement in the chief executive's policy address last October, there are few concrete measures so far - just empty words. The sincerity of the government is again in question. Does it mean what it says?

Last week, the government finally offered some land to be used for private hospitals and private universities. This is a good sign that it will deviate from its previous position of not selling public resources cheaply. But, again, does it mean what it says?

A case in point is the now well-established Shue Yan University, a private university that steadfastly refused government funding to uphold its mission and a four-year curriculum when the prevailing one was three years. It has been negotiating with the administration for years for the empty government plot next to its current premises in Braemar Hill, North Point.

With more than 4,000 students enrolled, it has only 500 dormitory places and no room for research facilities to match its current status as an accredited university.

From what I understand, the government pledged to give Shue Yan this plot as far back as 2007, to build an additional complex hosting its graduate schools, teaching facilities and student accommodation. So far, nothing has materialised.

The surrounding area is crowded with schools, and outsiders might think that the expansion would cause more traffic congestion. But a closer look reveals that the traffic pattern of college students and secondary-school students are completely different. A new building there would not make traffic worse as there is a constant flow of passengers throughout the day. Bus and minibus operators are more than happy about this situation, and that is why this area is quite well served by public transport, a fact that boosts property prices there.

The university and nearby residential blocks now complement each other, and the campus extension can only improve this situation. The government also plans to build an escalator from King's Road to the top of Braemar Hill Road near the Shue Yan campus. By the time the new complex was completed, in five or six years, traffic would no longer be an issue.

If an established private university that is well versed in fighting for its survival and development still gets bogged down by such bureaucratic nightmares, other parties interested in establishing private universities will have to think twice before taking the first step. What it all boils down to is whether the government is really serious about developing private universities, along with the other five key industries.

Pursuing an industrial policy requires more than a 'paradigm shift' and some vague planning. It takes a series of decisive actions to make sure things happen as planned. It may also imply a revamping of the official mindset, decision-making procedures and the will to succeed. Is our chief executive determined to go about it? Is our government machinery ready for such a changeover?

Failing to address these fundamental questions, the policy of developing the so-called six pillar industries is again another statement of good intention that will soon evaporate into thin air. It does not bode well for future poll ratings.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development