A five-point plan to a better city and second term at top

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am


There's still 2 1/2 months to go before he takes office but already chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying finds himself knee-deep in demands from all sides for action on a thousand fronts.

Let us try to help him focus by spelling out five problem areas that he must tackle, and then suggesting specific remedies for each.

Our property prices are far too high, with damaging consequences for the whole community. A price correction is inevitable, so the next administration will have to live with it but try to focus on getting the long term right.

We should reinstate the practice of publishing in advance an annual land sales programme (in parallel with the application list system) and proceed with land auctions at least quarterly. We must find ways to bring more small and medium-sized developers into the picture, with smaller sites or by allowing for premiums to be paid in instalments. It would be even better if we could switch to a system of smaller upfront payments, and a higher recurrent government rent.

The Home Ownership Scheme is not ideal but is wildly popular, so just do it. If it becomes politically necessary, restrict foreigners' right to buy residential property on the basis of a minimum size threshold.

Second, we have a poverty problem - there are people not getting enough to eat. We should not waste time on another poverty commission; we should just grab a solution from someone else's shelf.

Could something like the US food stamp programme be adapted to Hong Kong? Vouchers work for kindergarten education, could they not also work for basic necessities? How about issuing supermarket vouchers like the ones credit card customers buy with their points (so there would be no stigma problem when they are cashed)?

Will this be criticised as a band-aid solution? So what - first priority should be to stop the bleeding.

The air pollution problem in Hong Kong is a grave threat to public health and the Air Quality Objectives are an insult to the intelligence. Scrap them, and bring in new ones that aim for really healthy clean air.

Make a start by buying out and scrapping all pre-Euro standard buses, and all early Euro makes as fast as the manufacturers can ship new ones.

For middle-class families, education is the biggest single expense after housing. They pay taxes that fund education in some schools but not others. Where is the fairness in that?

The root of the problem is a system that subsidises institutions rather than children. Change it so that every lawfully resident child in Hong Kong enjoys an equal subsidy irrespective of the school they go to.

Finally, we must address the issue of financial support for retirees. There are many things we could do right now and some of them would cost nothing.

For example, why do we still force our civil servants to retire at 60? Fit, experienced people are being turfed out when they still have many useful years of employment potential. In Europe and other places, the age is being pushed out to the late 60s. In the US, there is no longer any retirement age.

The Mandatory Provident Fund is widely regarded as a disaster and a waste of money. The half-hearted reforms being discussed are woefully inadequate. Start by giving control of the whole account to the beneficiary, instead of just the half he or she contributes, as is proposed. That should result in an immediate and substantial cut in fees, from close to 2 per cent per annum now to below 1 per cent.

And, give two years' notice of ending the practice that allows employers to use the contributions they have made to cover their long-service payment obligations. All the money in the account should be used to provide a retirement nest egg for the employee.

Such an agenda is ambitious but achievable. And the person who can carry it off would be worthy of a second term.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk