SCMP Debate: What do you think about Leung Chun-ying's maiden policy address?
Leung Chun-ying's maiden policy address lasted for more than two hours and covered everything from housing supply to help for the disabled. But the chief executive has faced a growing wave of criticism, with claims that he failed to fully address vital issues and did not set out how he would achieve many of his manifesto pledges. We asked academics, businesspeople, representatives of concern groups and a member of the twenty-something generation for their views on Leung's speech and his prospects for his five-year term of office.
Q1 Judging from Leung Chun-ying’s maiden policy address, are you convinced that the chief executive has the leadership and determination to resolve deep-rooted problems in Hong Kong?
Q2 Do you think the Leung Chun-ying administration is taking a more proactive role on economic and social development? How proactive should the government’s role in economic and social development be?
Q3 Leung Chun-ying announced in the policy address the establishment of 16 committees to study such issues as standard working hours and free kindergarten education. Leung said those committees would study the feasibility of those initiatives, but critics say he is trying to procrastinate. Do you agree with Leung’s decision?
Business director (policy research and advocacy), the Council of Social Service
A1 The title of the policy address, "Seek Change, Maintain Stability, Serve the People with Pragmatism", clearly shows that the chief executive is taking a pragmatic approach in setting policies. Instead of making visionary and bold promises and setting concrete targets, he outlined a long task list in his maiden annual speech, of which many dealt with studying different policy issues - without specific time frames or objectives. This has certainly disappointed people who wished to see him put his manifesto into action immediately, but they should not be surprised. The manifesto was written after Leung Chun-ying and his team met a wide range of individuals and organisations in the election process. It carries a lot of recommendations and public consensus that the government has resisted adopting over the past years. Leung might not be able to change the government immediately - especially because most of his principal officials are inherited from the previous administration, while others have not had any experience in public administration at all. But people will be impatient and will question his ability and commitment if no substantial changes could be made before the next policy address.
A2 Leung's administration has demonstrated a willingness to address some deep-rooted social and economic problems. The setting up of a poverty commission, [defining] a poverty line and the review of the retirement system are some examples. To be proactive, the government should have vision and be able to plan ahead instead of just reacting to problems when they become serious and deep-rooted. The lack of residential homes for the frail elderly and people with disabilities is the result of the lack of long-term welfare planning. This has led to a few thousand elderly people dying each year before getting the required services. It has long been predicted that the city will have an ageing population, so the government has no excuse not to plan ahead and give adequate services for the increasing number of elderly people. The last medium and long-term welfare planning processes were all held in the 1990s. Leung's manifesto promised to conduct welfare planning and to set targets. The government should not wait any longer.
A3 The transparency of the decision-making process behind the policy address has been so low that we should perhaps not have expected the chief executive to make any major policy announcements. The public consultation process is more like a show, in which the chief executive and his principal officials are perceived as actively engaged. As the drafting of the policy address is considered a top secret, the government will not disclose the scope, options, considerations or implications of any policy proposals, and the general public is thus not equipped to make informed views at all. The committees could make a difference. The committees could actively engage concerned experts and listen to the views of all stakeholders. They could stage a formal public consultation on important and controversial subjects to ensure that the public has a chance to understand the pros and cons, and to make informed decisions. It takes more time - but it is worthwhile - for society to reach a consensus on important issues.
Roy Chung Chi-ping
Chairman, Federation of Hong Kong Industries
A1 It is obvious that there are no quick and simple solutions to Hong Kong's deep-rooted problems. In his maiden policy address, the chief executive has laid out various pragmatic ways to address pressing issues, including housing, poverty, [the] ageing population, pollution and others. Although it will take time for the measures to see results, the people of Hong Kong can be assured that the government is moving in the right direction. The real challenge confronting the administration lies in the implementation of the initiatives outlined in the policy address. They will have a lot of hard work to do in reconciling the diverse - and sometimes conflicting - interests and aspirations of different sectors. For instance, the ambitious plan to develop the northeastern New Territories into a new town to meet housing needs is bound to be fraught with difficulty. An equally daunting task will be to manage Hong Kong's solid-waste problem. The chief executive vowed to make tough decisions for the overall interests of Hong Kong. We should give him trust and support to take his policy blueprint forward.
A2 One of the main elements of the chief executive's governance philosophy is that the government must be "appropriately proactive" to promote economic development. He also sees the importance of pursuing economic growth and social development in tandem. On the economic front, the establishment of the Economic Development Commission and the Financial Services Development Council underscores his commitment to broaden our economic base. Another focus … is strengthening homeland relationships to help Hong Kong businesses enter the vast mainland market. He undertakes to increase government co-operation with mainland authorities and introduce more support for our enterprises. Among these are setting up a joint working group with the Ministry of Commerce under CEPA [Closer Economic Partnership Agreement], enhancing the functions of the Economic and Trade Office and liaison offices in the mainland, and expanding their networks. With respect to bolstering Hong Kong's external trade, [Leung] has pledged to spearhead more trade promotion activities. These new initiatives, which are well received by the business sector, show that he lives up to his promise to make the government appropriately proactive. We look forward to the timely roll-out of specific measures. As you know, a number of social programmes have already been announced before and during the policy address which require substantial spending.
A3 It is prudent for the government to set up committees to think through practical issues and map out feasible proposals before introducing a policy that may have far-reaching implications. Through these, the government can tap stakeholders and experts and draw on their … experience and insight. This enables the government to better understand the key issues, sort out technical problems and mobilise stakeholders' support. The 16 committees are each tasked to provide thorough and well-thought-out recommendations within a policy area. The community would expect committees to complete their work within a reasonable time. It is also incumbent upon the government to act on its recommendations in a timely manner.
Dr Brian Fong Chi-hang
Lecturer, Division of Social Studies, City University
A1 Both institutional and personal factors contribute to the governance crisis that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration is facing. On the institutional front, the disconnect between the executive [branch] and the legislature under the existing political system makes it hard for Leung to engineer a stable support base in the Legislative Council for his policy initiatives. On the personal front, he has been caught in a political scandal over the illegal structures found in his house. Both the institutional impasse and [the] scandal have seriously undermined Leung's capacity to effect policy changes. From this perspective, his policy address has failed to turn the situation around because it does not offer any credible solutions to both the issues he faces.
A2 Since the handover, the Hong Kong government has been under growing public pressure to [step up its] intervention on both the economic and social fronts. The public demands more proactive government action to address the many pressing economic and social problems, such as the monopoly of big businesses, income disparity, ageing population and high property prices, among others. The strong support Leung enjoyed during the chief executive election had, to a large extent, reflected public approval of his reformist image and rhetoric. But the expansion of government intervention into the economic and social arenas means that the Leung administration must step up its regulation of business operations (such as setting maximum working hours) and must adopt more redistributive policies (like comprehensive retirement protection). However, the business community will certainly oppose such policy initiatives. Hence, the chief executive faces a dilemma on how best to balance the public's demands and those of the powerful business community.
A3 Hong Kong's tradition of "committee politics" has been in existence since the British colonial era, under which the government formulated policies in consultation with business and professional elites in various advisory committees. The effectiveness of this approach to governance depends very much on whether the co-opted elites can perform an intermediary role between the government and society. But the rise of civil society activism in the city has posed a challenge to the logic of committee politics and the representativeness of the elites. These days, activists call for direct public participation in politics and are ready to challenge the policies formulated by the government and its committees. As a result, the government's efforts in consulting its advisory committees' business and professional elites no longer really help in establishing a solid support base for their policy agenda. Hence, Leung's effort to establish more committees is a step in the wrong direction. Rather than relying on the old-style approach, he should forge a broader political consensus by directly engaging the public in his policymaking process. Engagement methods such as strategic collaboration with concerned groups, deliberative polling and town hall meetings can be conducted instead of wasting resources on ineffective committee politics.
Joyce Lee Ho-yee
29-year-old human resources worker at a law firm
A1 Leung may have some determination, but certainly not enough ability to solve the deep-rooted problems in Hong Kong. He also lacks the guts to face more problematic issues. Leung only dealt with surface issues in his policy address - like mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong - without really touching on the deeper issue of the malaise between Hongkongers and mainlanders. His policy address also doesn't deal with everyone's housing needs, which is disappointing. Leung says he will increase housing supply by building more public housing and [subsidised housing] under the Home Ownership Scheme. Those schemes, however, benefit only the middle-lower class, but not the sandwich class which is also suffering because of soaring property prices. Some of us who have been working awhile [and earning] moderate incomes are still unable to buy flats. Hong Kong's resources have always been tight - and [they] are tighter now. As Hong Kong's leader, Leung should steer his government towards using resources for the benefit of the people, and to make proactive moves to level the playing field. But he fails as a leader in that he does not listen to public opinion.
A2 I think the government should take a more proactive role in economic development, but a balance is needed to ensure a free market. What Leung is proposing so far is not enough - especially in curbing property prices and solving the problem of the working poor. Leung did not provide policies to help level the playing field. The government needs to set the minimum standard, the bottom line - to curb rent rises and set a reasonable minimum wage. HK$30 is not enough for a decent living. HK$35 would be closer to the mark. As for social development, the government should lead the way in preserving local culture and developing Hong Kong's creative and local enterprises. There need to be more proactive measures - like subsidies for local businesses, events, facilities and activities for the creative sector, and more well-rounded education so children can be exposed to local culture and other [ways of] learning apart from their books. In this aspect, I think Leung is only trying to import mainland culture and not developing local culture. This is not good. Maybe he is trying to assimilate Hong Kong into the mainland so that Hong Kong becomes just another Chinese city without character. I think that's bad. Hong Kong should keep its unique culture, as this is our identity.
A3 I think setting up committees is the most that Leung can do because he isn't a well-recognised leader, [having been] elected by a small group of people. He isn't well-accepted [by the people], so his power is very limited and there is a lot he cannot do. Committees are necessary to solve various issues, but I think Leung is trying to procrastinate. These topics - whether it's standard working hours or 15 years' free education - have been floating for a while, with numerous studies done on them. All the government needs to do is to gather these reports to minimise research time and move on to policymaking. There should be a limit to how long committees can discuss and research so that socially beneficial policies can be put through as soon as possible. There should also be a wider range of people in these committees. The government should invite different people from different sectors and groups to join so that there can be more well-rounded discussions.
Edwin Lau Che-feng
Director of general affairs, Friends of the Earth (HK)
A1 The chief executive is desperately exploring existing land and trying reclamation to meet the demands of economic development and population growth. Leung should pause and ask his team [about] the limits of economic and population growth before considering reclamation or turning agricultural land into building sites - because once ecologically sensitive areas are destroyed, the damage is permanent. Every city has its growth limits. I am not convinced the chief executive has the determination to resolve deep-rooted problems that have made our environment and public health suffer for decades. The policy address was the right moment for him to demonstrate commitment and new approaches to environmental problems. However, Leung has missed the chance. The waste reduction measures [he] mentioned had been laid down by Dr [Sarah] Liao Sau-tung, the former environment secretary, but even worse is that Leung did not commit to any targets and timelines for reducing waste-generation. Shifting the public consultation exercises for waste [generation fees] to the Sustainable Development Council instead of the Environmental Protection Department gave the impression that Leung lacked the confidence and commitment to develop this effective policy. Our government cannot simply rely on the two small-scale organic waste treatment facilities and the voluntary actions by the industry to tackle more than 3,500 tonnes of food waste per day. Leung should find patches of land and invite capable commercial bodies to run recycling operations to turn food waste into animal feed, compost or even biogas. A carrot-and-stick approach to harmful emissions from old diesel vehicles is appropriate, but the 2016 deadline for phasing out pre-Euro and Euro-I vehicles is too lenient, as this means allowing 27,000 polluting vehicles to spew carcinogenic pollutants that are directly threatening the lives of citizens.
A2 Leung cannot demonstrate a proactive role on economic and social development as far as the environment is concerned. In many circumstances, the business sector expects our government to lay down legislation and policies as this will help create a level playing field. However, our government often chooses the easy way by rolling out pilot schemes to encourage voluntary participation, which is often ineffective. The interim review of the Scheme of Control (SoC) agreements between the government and the power sector is a social and environmental issue. Leung has not expressed his vision for the future energy market. He did not even propose energy-saving targets that the power sector should accomplish in stages until the end of the SoC in 2018. Simply telling the public that the government is keen to promote green buildings is procrastination.
A3 While it is up to the public to say if he has chosen to drag [his feet] on other social or economic issues, I feel Leung has done so on energy issues and, in particular, light pollution. Leung mentioned in his manifesto that he would tackle light pollution, but didn't announce a timeline for the release of the guidelines, let alone legislation. The light pollution issue is an emerging problem as different businesses have entered into a vicious cycle to compete with each other. This kind of delay will further fuel the vicious cycle.
Ada Wong Ying-kay
Chief executive, Institute of Contemporary Culture
A1 The policy address has highlighted the problems of housing, poverty, the ageing population and the environment. But at the root of these problems is land. If land were not an issue and homes were more affordable, we would not have the dubious privilege of having the most unaffordable housing market in the world, as shown in the Demographia International Housing Affordability poll. Entrepreneurship is no longer viable because start-up costs have become prohibitive. Old brands and shops are winding down because of exorbitant rents. When land is lacking, different needs jostle for space. The creative cluster and art production base in the hundreds of industrial buildings in Kowloon East - comprising more than 1,000 indie bands, artists' studios and galleries - will be seriously affected if industrial buildings are all turned into hotels, office blocks or housing. The irony is that there should be enough land if there is proper planning and land use, especially in tackling the unsustainable New Territories small-house policy. The chief executive rightly identifies land as an issue, but his suggestions have not [addressed] the root of the problem. Sadly, this quest for space will continue to distort our focus on larger issues [regarding] the city's sustainable development.
A2 It is not an issue of proactivity but a matter of how open, innovative and engaging the process will be. In this digital age, people expect governments to be open [in order] to gain the public's trust. Residents, especially younger Hongkongers, are ready and willing to take part in decision-making. The question is whether the government is willing to design a transparent system, open up important data for our analysis, engage stakeholders effectively and adopt a slightly less risk-averse mindset so that we can see progress in some of our archaic policies. Apart from economic and social development, it's time for the government not to shy away from a debate on Hong Kong's cultural positioning. The recent row on whether the Chinese opera centre in West Kowloon should be called the "Xiqu Centre for Chinese Opera" is an indication of some Hongkongers' anxiety and frustration in their search for and reflections about our identity in the context of China. The chief executive acknowledged in the policy address that "Hong Kong culture is a unique fusion of Chinese and Western influences", and he promised to promote our arts and cultural development with local colour. But he did not tell us how to retain our unique "Hongkongness".
A3 I have sat on various bodies, including university councils, in the last 15 years. Committees of any kind comprising a few busy part-time members cannot drive policy formulation. People expect more participation and want their voices heard, and consultations organised by such committees that pay only lip service to people who speak up are insufficient. The formation of committees is only a political move that will not bring about policy innovation. Moreover, if the scope of a committee is too narrow, it will miss the big picture. For example, kindergarten education is not just about money, but quality, content and purpose. There are wide gaps between the have and the have-nots. Parents are more obsessed about making a head start, relying on rote learning, when learning should be interactive. These issues have been sidelined in this focus on "who pays".