His best shot
Public acceptance of the chief executive's policy address this year is only second to that of the one he delivered when he took office for a full term in 2007. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's latest ratings have risen, which means the policy blueprint is, by and large, accepted by the public.
The 2006 address, when he wrapped up his first, two-year term after the highly unpopular Tung Chee-hwa stepped down in 2005, was received unfavourably. Critics attacked him for not doing his job properly.
There were obvious differences between the two addresses: the 2006 address had only one new policy - the kindergarten voucher scheme to provide financial subsidies to promote pre-primary education. This year's address was far more substantial with 210 paragraphs outlining policies and benefits that cover many top-priority issues, among them the resumption of the controversial Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) programme, provisions for the elderly including transport subsidies and the option of retiring in Guangdong while collecting entitlements from Hong Kong, and a two-month rental waiver for public housing tenants.
Obviously, Tsang was trying to make the most out of his remaining months in office.
Housing in Hong Kong is a perennial problem and whoever is in charge will find it nearly impossible to please everyone. The public opinion on this issue often flip-flops with no traceable trends. For example, the closing tender for the Nam Cheong station residential project of HK$11.8billion was below market expectations. The media attacked the government for selling it cheaply to developers. But a few months ago, public opinion was against the government maintaining a high land-price policy, which is the fundamental cause pushing property prices to unattainable levels.
The biggest fear of the one-million-plus property owners in Hong Kong is a sudden drop in property values or a repeat of the negative equity nightmare in the late 1990s. If government efforts are intended to tame property prices, it risks repeating that fiasco.
Tsang's decision to reinstate the HOS project was carefully thought out to give the policy a better chance of being implemented. He rolled it out only when he was sure it would get enough support from across the community. It's definitely a smart move.
It is also clever to use the HOS project as a tool to influence prices of medium and small properties as an effective way to tame the red-hot market. Tsang is trying encourage a link between prices of HOS flats with incomes of individual families, rather than follow the market prices. The plan should mean cheaper private properties can begin to be differentiated from the luxury private market, and the prices of medium and small private properties will start to come down to a more reasonable level.
The fact that Tsang saved the best for last reflects the complexity of the Hong Kong administration. No one, the chief executive included, can override the deeply-rooted rules and procedures of the system.
With only several months to go before he steps down, Tsang has finally managed to give his best shot and get the job done.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org