Hong Kong risks being left behind unless it speeds up decision-making

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 2:23am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 2:23am

The ambition to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive world is the driving force of an economy. For decades, Hong Kong has been aware of the importance of standing out in the region. While our business environment, freedoms and rule of law are no doubt some of our strengths, there are growing concerns over the current pace of development. Our city appears no longer to be as competitive as before.

Adding to the long list of worries is a perceived erosion of government efficiency. This newspaper recently interviewed entertainment mogul Allan Zeman, who cited a raft of problems which he said were holding the city back. He noted that the chief executive did not have the support of the legislature, and that government bills and its budget were being blocked. With a few mega tourism and entertainment projects due for completion in Shanghai soon, Hong Kong might lose out to other Chinese cities within five years, he said.

The worry over Hong Kong lagging behind is nothing new. But Zeman is probably not the lone business voice on this front. Whether the legislature is holding back the city is open to debate. Constitutionally, Legco is as much a working partner as a watchdog. While members' support for legislation and funding proposals is essential, they are not expected to rubber-stamp everything tabled. Checks and balances are a necessary safeguard against abuse. That's the price to pay in an open society, even if it means reduced efficiency.

The political reality is a lot more complicated, though. On the one hand, Leung Chun-ying has yet to secure loyal support from the pro-establishment camp. On the other hand, a handful of rebel pan-democrats are trying to challenge him whenever possible, sometimes to the extent of frustrating the ruling team with headline-grabbing political theatrics. The result is that, even though most funding requests and bills are usually passed without a hitch, the public is left with the impression that politicking is put before efficiency.

The perception that Hong Kong is not moving as quickly as it should is also attributed to bureaucracy and indecision on the part of the administration. Its resolve is often blunted by endless rounds of studies and reviews. Consultation becomes the synonym of inaction and procrastination.

Those who fail to move quickly will be left behind. The public looks forward to better efforts from the administration and legislature to enhance the city's competitiveness.