Leung Chun-ying

CY Leung faces daunting check list

Leung has a host of pressing issues to tackle if he wants to ensure he can survive his first term

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 4:05am

Environmental protection is emerging as a key challenge for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying after the government was forced to back down on a scheme to expand landfill sites, lawmakers from across the political spectrum say.

They also identified political reform, tackling the widening wealth gap and addressing an ageing population as pressing tasks for the administration. How Leung deals with them, the lawmakers say, could dictate whether the chief executive even makes it through his five-year term.

A Chinese University survey released last week found that 32 per cent of the 812 respondents said housing should be the administration's first priority in Leung's second year in office, while 15 per cent chose constitutional development, 13 per cent the economy and 12 per cent put social welfare.

Just 4 per cent put the environment first, but Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai said the issue should not be neglected, despite the fact the government withdrew plans to expand a landfill at Tsuen Kwan O amid opposition from politicians and residents.

Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan has endorsed the importance of the environment as the government looks to table environmentally sensitive proposals such as plans for a waste incinerator, a third runway for the airport and new town developments in the New Territories.

"These are matters about balancing development and conservation," Chan said. "And the problem is whether Leung's cabinet … can [co-ordinate] and do their job."

But for Peter Cheung Kwok-che, Labour Party lawmaker and vice-chairman of the Legislative Council's welfare panel, laying the foundations for better care for the poor and elderly people must be Leung's top priority.

"The government must look into why the wealth gap has been widening, and other than immediate relief, it must also try to cure the problem," Cheung said. "It means the government has to examine whether our city can provide enough jobs for the lower class by relying on financial and service industries."

The administration must also prepare for the problems that could arise as the city's population grows older.

In February, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah forecast that the proportion of the population over 65 would increase from 13.7 per cent now to 30 per cent by 2041.

The government has since appointed a working group on long-term fiscal planning, while a task force under the Poverty Commission, headed by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, is studying retirement protection. Labour and Welfare Minister Matthew Cheung Kin-chung indicated in May that a public consultation might come as early as next year, as lawmakers called for the creation of a universal pension scheme.

The Poverty Commission was one of at least 16 committees established in Leung's maiden policy address in January. The committees are studying the feasibility of myriad policy ideas, including standard working hours and free kindergarten education.

Amid speculation Leung might be forced out with his popularity flagging, Peter Cheung said those advisory bodies could be the keys to the question. "These committees have to file their reports … and if Leung can do a good job, he can surely stay until the end of his term," he said.