Two surprises and five key points from CY Leung’s final policy address to Hong Kong
The outgoing chief executive’s tone was notably less confrontational than in the past, and his remarks tended more towards policy than politics
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying gave Hongkongers two surprises in his swansong policy speech on Wednesday: lavish spending on sports and flirting with the sensitive idea of building homes in country parks, while insisting he has fulfilled all his election promises.
Leung, whose U-turn announcement last month that he would not seek a second term shocked the city, appeared less politically confrontational. Yet his positions on some issues, such as warning against Hong Kong independence, remained the same.
Watch: CY Leung’s policy address
Here are the key points from his address, which ran two and a half hours long, as well as a brief commentary by former secretary for civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping.
1. A surprise expenditure of HK$20 billion for sports
Leung once said the sports sector did not contribute to the economy, upsetting many athletes and Hongkongers in the process. Unexpectedly, he decided to spend a lavish sum on sports.
His five-year plan unveiled on Wednesday covers 26 projects to involving new or improved sports and recreation facilities. They total 54 venues, including sports grounds, football pitches and tennis courts.
A related highlight: a plan to demolish the Wan Chai Sports Ground for “comprehensive” development in 2019. Apart from building convention and exhibition venues, the site will comprise “trendy and novel recreational and sports facilities”.
2. Call for a rethink on land use planning; building in country parks?
Leung conceded the city’s housing shortage and high prices were difficult to resolve despite multiple efforts in the past.
He said housing challenges “boil down to land use, which is not a technical issue, but a conceptual one”. He urged the public to “dare to think out of the box and re-examine land use planning” for the benefit of the city’s next generation.
The chief executive then turned to the topic of country parks, saying they were a “precious asset”. On the one hand, he announced a plan to designate 500 hectares of Robin’s Nest as a new country park. But on the other hand, he revealed an idea that alarmed many local environmentalists: he said the city should consider allocating a small proportion of land in country parks with “relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value” for public housing and non-profit-making homes for the elderly.
3. One Belt, One Road initiatives beefed up
Leung this year again spoke at length about President Xi Jinping’s pet development project, after setting up a dedicated office in the city last year to work out the grand plan.
The all-encompassing initiatives announced on Wednesday included relaxing visa requirements for nationals of the One Belt, One Road countries to come to Hong Kong to work and study. The economic development plan also includes scholarships for studying in the city.
4. MPF offsetting and retirement protection
To honour his election promise, Leung announced he would “progressively abolish” the offset mechanism under the Mandatory Provident Fund system.
The controversial mechanism has allowed employers to use their portion of contributions to the pension funds to offset the severance or long-service payments due an employee.
The abolition is not retroactive. To reduce employers’ financial burden as many have opposed scrapping the system, Leung said the government might lower the amount employers were required to pay: from two-thirds of the worker’s monthly pay to half of that.
The government would also bear a part of the cost in the 10 years after the abolition’s implementation date.
Yet Leung held firm on not providing a universal retirement protection scheme that would give a flat-rate payment without any means test for elderly persons, despite calls to do just that. He said such a scheme would “dilute the support available to those in need”.
Instead, elderly persons with greater financial needs would be eligible for a higher allowance.
5. A less confrontational stance
Compared to past policy speeches, Leung this year took up a less antagonistic stance towards independence advocates and his political opponents.
He duly reiterated Beijing’s position against those advocating Hong Kong independence, saying it was a “legal fact and an internationally recognised political reality” that Hong Kong was an inalienable part of China and that “autonomy is not absolute or arbitrary” but must be guided by the Basic Law. He reminded Hongkongers they had a “duty” to uphold national sovereignty and security.
He ended his speech by saying “all commitments in my election manifesto have basically been implemented” – a disputable assertion as promises for political reform have not yet materialised and a pledge on standard working hours remained to be fulfilled.
He also vowed to continue to make contributions to Hong Kong and the country.
Commentary by former civil service minister Joseph Wong Wing-ping
“This is Leung Chun-ying’s best policy speech – less politics, more policies.
“He started his speech highlighting the US’ Heritage Foundation’s rating of Hong Kong – I could have hardly imagined him doing so in the past because he would not cite anything considered a ‘foreign influence’.
“Some of the policies are down-to-earth and worth continuing by the next government: MPF offsetting and opening up country parks for non-profit purposes. The offsetting policy is a well-thought-out package. But I would disagree with having high-density homes in country parks. Homes for the elderly and universities may be better suited for that.
“A major setback in his last policy speech was a failure to provide universal retirement protection.
“One can still remember two years ago, right after the end of Occupy Central, he started his address by picking on an old article in a student magazine to declare some Hongkongers were advocating independence. He sounded as if he wanted to continue the political fight.
“Now he doesn’t have the political burden to show his allegiance to Beijing. He has adopted a less confrontational stance, which is a good thing.”