Surprise packages

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 December, 2010, 12:00am

The government's recent measures against property speculation have produced instant results, bringing property prices down significantly and dampening sales volume dramatically. The measures, which include levying additional stamp duty of between 5 and 15 per cent on flats resold within two years, have made speculation less profitable.

But critics said the new policies hurt not only homebuyers, but also many estate agents, who would soon lose their jobs in the contracting market. The Estate Agents Management Association has called on members to stage a rally against the new measures, while two of the biggest local property agencies - Centaline and Midland - have encouraged employees to send personal letters of protest to the government in a bid to force it to change course. It clearly shows that when it comes to doing business, profit reigns supreme and business practices will constantly go against the public interest.

Journalists who earlier criticised the government for doing little to curb property speculation now seem to be suffering from amnesia, attacking the authorities for hurting potential investors and genuine end-users with the measures. Even legislators and political parties denounced the measures.

When the chief executive pledged to clamp down on the developers' unscrupulous practice of inflating the floor areas of flats, critics dismissed the plan as a mere gesture to placate public discontent. Now that we have effective anti-speculation measures in place, many detractors are still unsatisfied.

To be fair, the administration has done an incredible job; it has hurt speculators where it hurts most - their pockets. Credit goes to Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah for having kept plans for the latest policy under wraps, thus managing to 'surprise the target' with a strike. Both he and Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who played a major role in pushing for the policy, should be applauded for their political sense.

We all know how important the property market is to the city's economy. It is not only our economic lifeline, it is a political hot potato. Many still remember former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's disastrous housing policy that led to a collapse in property prices, and his resignation.

The success of the latest policy was due in no small part to the government's good timing in striking only when it was sure it had the people's support to curb property speculation. Skilled in fencing and kung fu, John Tsang seems to have applied his expertise well. He prefers to keep a low profile. Nonetheless, he is a solid politician. His background is different from that of other top officials, most of whom graduated from local universities. Tsang studied at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and was in the same class as the chief executive. It was Donald Tsang who advised him to join the Hong Kong government.

John Tsang is regarded as a different species of official. Before he joined the Hong Kong government as an administrative officer, he studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked in the US government's Department of Education.

He is genuinely concerned about the underprivileged in society and often inspires others because he stands firm on his principles. Many regard him as a dark horse in the next chief executive race, which is focused now on the other two contestants: Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying. When it comes to understanding the needs of the people and grass-roots issues, it is not difficult to see who stands out among the three. Unlike Leung, John Tsang is truly dedicated to improving people's livelihoods.

Now, Tang has to show us what he can really do for Hong Kong. To win over the people, maybe his best bet is to make sure the proposed Community Care Fund is a great success.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator