• Fri
  • Nov 28, 2014
  • Updated: 3:29am
CommentInsight & Opinion
LEADER

Information is key to wise population policy vision

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 3:25am

Government inertia is never a good idea when it comes to population and planning. This has to be especially so for Hong Kong, where fertility rates are among the lowest in the world, society is ageing fast and the workforce is shrinking. But despite the necessity to have forward-looking policies in place to ensure smooth growth and development, our city has instead lacked resolve to deal with what would seem to be an on-rushing crisis. The decision by Singapore's leaders to tackle their similar challenges head-on is reason to spur the discussion that authorities have avoided.

Singapore's population white paper, unveiled last week, is bold in scope and vision. It seeks a 30 per cent rise in numbers over the next 17 years to 6.9 million. Central to the strategy is attracting one million young, well-educated, foreigners. Unsurprisingly, it has garnered as much criticism as approval.

Fear of such a response is perhaps one reason why Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, failed to formulate a population policy. Vested interests and protectionist ways abound in our city, pitting the business community, unions and society in general against suggestions of an influx of outsiders. Yet, like Singapore, it is in that direction that a city with our challenges may have little choice other than to turn.

But creating a sustained growth model requires accurate, detailed and up-to-date population data, and on this score there are substantial holes. Authorities have no inkling how many mainlanders and foreigners live here, nor can they say with certainty what percentage of the 200,000 children born in our hospitals to mainland parents will one day return. Accurate information helps solve problems to provide better services and improve the quality of life. Where those not born in Hong Kong are concerned, it is crucial; we need to be able to properly assess manpower needs and infrastructure requirements.

Hong Kong needs a vibrant population to confidently face the future. A scheme to attract well-educated outsiders to live here is not working; just 2,392 applications have been approved since 2006. Thousands of construction workers may have to be imported so that our housing needs can be met. These are sensitive issues, but they have to be discussed. Like Singapore, we have to confront our population problems decisively. First, though, authorities have to get an accurate picture of society and its needs so that a visionary policy can be formulated.

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This article is now closed to comments

wilswong
"Unsurprisingly, it has garnered as much criticism as approval."
Approval based on 77 men and women Singaporeans have voted in the motion about the population growth?
There wasn't a national referendum on the said issue so to put the word 'as much' is misleading.
"Accurate information helps solve problems to provide better services and improve the quality of life."
As there are accurate information to plan forward, there are also existing problems that would be part of the 'accurate information' that would require urgent care and attention.
Sad to say, and despite the editorial piece to insinuate that the Singapore government is reacting to the problems positively (read: "The decision by Singapore's leaders to tackle their similar challenges head-on is reason to spur the discussion that (Hong Kong) authorities have avoided.") , the ground sentiment of Singaporeans is not as rosy.
I wonder how many times MTR trains have stopped working totally. I wonder how long one needed to wait for the next train to come (ours is 3 min on average during peak versus 1 min in HK).
"Like Singapore, we have to confront our population problems decisively. "
Yes 'decisively' but not at the expense of the local populace. This is one thing the editorial must emphasize. This is also the one thing I want to emphasize to any government.
Take care of your own people first. Make sure they are treated fairly before blindly importing foreigners.
johnyuan
I have my doubts about government agencies lack of population statistical count on foreigners and mainlanders in Hong Kong. It is just too inconvenient to have them made public by the previous administration. It is both crucial a population policy should be based on full spectrum of information as well an open mindset how that information to be interpreted and used. The low birth rate by locals speaks loud and clear. Any policy to advocate drastic population increase like the proposal in Singapore is too simplistic for Hong Kong. Hong Kong must be mindful of its living density of a disabling land policy and supply but with a large hinterland of ‘unlimited’ supply of population migration. The new administration must do more than setting up a population policy committee but most importantly do so with leadership over all special interest groups to come up with a population policy. For a change?

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