Legco sees proposal for technology bureau with HK$30 million budget

Legco gets HK$30 million proposal for policy team in charge of innovation and technology, but lawmaker threatens filibuster to kill it again

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 4:37am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 7:48am

The government delivered a fresh proposal for an innovation and technology bureau to the Legislative Council yesterday, two years after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying shelved the idea following a filibuster by lawmakers.

The administration is keen to establish the bureau, which legislators were told would focus mainly on IT development.

A government source said developing a digital ID for every Hongkonger and converting research into actual products would be among its key tasks.

Leung revived the idea in his policy address in January and the government hopes to set up the bureau this year. It would cost taxpayers relatively little - HK$29.8 million a year - said the document submitted to Legco.

In comparison, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau spent more than HK$135 million on salaries alone in the last financial year.

People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip expressed opposition to the new bureau and would not rule out a filibuster.

"We think an IT bureau has to incorporate innovation with production. The government has to launch an in-depth consultation before it applies for money to set up the bureau," Chan said. "We would not rule out staging a filibuster to block the plan."

In July 2012, the new Leung administration all but admitted its embattled plan to restructure government, which included setting up two new bureaus, would not be passed. Lawmakers were not convinced the administration should be expanded, and there was unease when rules were bent to fast-track the plan.

The new proposal would require funding four directorate-level civil service posts and three political appointees for the bureau, which would oversee the Innovation and Technology Commission and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. The commerce bureau would continue handling policies for telecoms, broadcasting and creative industries.

An industry insider said Nick Yang, executive vice-president of Polytechnic University, was front runner for the minister's job, while Witman Hung Wai-man, president of the Internet Professional Association, "has expressed interest" in being undersecretary.

The proposal will be discussed by Legco's panel on IT and broadcasting on Monday.

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok hoped the proposal could clear all hurdles by the end of the year. But it cannot be debated by the finance committee until passage of the budget bill, for which lawmakers have submitted 1,917 amendments which will take weeks to deal with.

"I hope anyone who wants to filibuster the bureau's funding application can consider if the value of urgently needed IT development is worth the HK$30 million annual staffing cost of the bureau," Mok said.

The honorary president of the Information Technology Federation, Francis Fong Po-kiu, said the new bureau might want to avoid controversial areas like HKTV and RTHK at first. But he hoped the new bureau would cover communications in the long run. "It's hard to separate telecoms from IT," he said.