Leung Chun-ying must have surprised many in the community when he announced a multi-billion-dollar spending spree to improve the city's access for the elderly, disabled and children. Dubbed the "city of lifts" project, it involves the construction of 230 outdoor lifts next to footbridges and slopes across the city in the coming years. We do not doubt many of them are genuinely needed and are long overdue, but a high-profile announcement by the top leader has inevitably raised many eyebrows. Some accuse him of competing with district councillors for political point-scoring. Given his flagging popularity, the criticisms are understandable.
Nonetheless, it is good to see that neighbourhood issues are high on the new government's agenda. Providing a barrier-free environment for the disabled and elderly has long been the government's policy. But some facilities in public areas remain inaccessible to them. A report by the Equal Opportunities Commission a few years ago suggests there is still much room for improvement.
Leung campaigned with the slogan "livelihood is no trivial matter". The high importance he attached to the daily living of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups is commendable. Although building lifts is not as grand as the 10 infrastructure projects pushed by former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Leung's blueprint will also require significant expenditure. The initial spending on inspection and design is expected to be HK$100 million in the coming year, with the cost rising to over HK$1 billion annually.
It is imperative the government ensure taxpayers' money will be well spent. After all, there is no shortage of white elephant district works in the past. Problems like underused footbridges and subways leading to nowhere are just some of the examples highlighted in a value-for-money report by the Audit Commission two years ago.
Enhancing accessibility for the elderly, the disabled and children should be fundamental to a government that prides itself on being caring and inclusive. It has been reported that the government is keen to follow in the footsteps of Tsang and roll out a so-called Top 10 list of livelihood projects. If Leung is serious about shoring up his popularity, he needs more than lifts to do that. There are far more pressing issues that require the government's urgent attention. The community awaits more good news on areas such as housing and social welfare.