Lee Shau-kee's largesse can serve as inspiration to others
Business tycoons do not often enjoy the respect they deserve in Hong Kong. This is partly due to the negative sentiment fuelled by a widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor. While tycoons are money-minded by nature, many of them are also mindful of the moral responsibility to give back to the community. With suitable go-between, tycoons and charities can contribute to society together.
Lee Shau-kee deserves credit for his long commitment to charity. Like other property developers, the 84-year-old chairman of Henderson Land is well known for his largesse in donating to universities. Recently he has turned his focus to converting his land for public use. After several attempts, he finally succeeded in his bid to build the city's largest nursing home. Entrusted to Pok Oi Hospital, the 100,000 sq ft plot in Tuen Mun is expected to benefit up to 2,000 elderly people needing long-term care. As the land is held by his company, Lee made a personal donation of HK$107 million to the company to release the land for development; while the construction is to be financed by the government's Lotteries Funds. This is good news for the 29,000 elderly people in the queue for residential care homes. At present, they have to wait between three and six years for a bed space, with some dying while waiting.
However, Lee's attempt to donate farmland for low-cost housing for young people has not been so well received. The public is understandably sceptical when a tycoon who has made a fortune in property tries to give away land to help young buyers. Wary of accusations of business collusion, officials have sensibly passed the offer to the Housing Society, a non-government agency, for consideration.
Housing and an ageing society are two important issues facing Hong Kong. It would be good if the government could meet the challenge with the help of business and charity. As long as the initiatives are made in the public interest, there is no reason why they should not be explored further. Hopefully, it can inspire more acts of philanthropy in future.