Permit system open to review

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 2:40am

Some Hongkongers like to blame mainlanders for everything. From sky-high property prices to long public housing queues, from a shortage of hospital beds to insufficient primary school places, our neighbours are, sometimes unjustifiably, seen as the root of many social and economic ills in the city. The latest land supply debate has fuelled calls to revamp the one-way permit system so that the government can have better control over the quantity as well as the quality of the arrivals.

The negative public feelings are understandable in light of the social tension arising from cross-border integration. Guangdong governor Zhu Xiaodan appears to be sensitive to the sentiment as well. Asked about the influx of mainland tourists at a cross-border conference, the top official said the individual visit scheme was made for the good of Hong Kong's economy. But he agreed that the policy should be reviewed if it had adverse consequences on people's livelihood.

The remarks came as the city's security chief Lai Tung-kwok rejected calls to change the 150 daily arrival quota under the one-way permit scheme, which critics said had added to the demand for housing and other public services. The burden, they argued, could be eased if the government could limit the numbers and determine who can settle here. That means taking over the vetting of applications, which is currently handled by mainland authorities.

Appealing as it sounds, the suggestion implies we only welcome those who are beneficial to our economy and demographics. If this is the case, it deviates from the original purpose of facilitating family reunion in an orderly manner. It would be discriminatory if the elderly and the poor were to be screened out to avoid draining our public resources.

That said, a system that has been in place for decades should be reviewed regularly. About 762,000 mainlanders have settled here since the handover, representing one-tenth of the population. It makes sense to engage the government closely to ensure the arrivals are within our capacity.