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Chief executive’s policy address 2017

Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung claims legacy in final policy speech

Outgoing leader shifts focus from city’s bitter social and political divides to livelihood issues, and says he ‘basically’ delivered election pledges

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 12:13am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 11:35am

With less than six months to go before retiring, Hong Kong’s controversial leader sought to claim his legacy in his swansong policy speech on Wednesday, proposing plans ranging from economic development to sports to show he was not heading a lame-duck government for the rest of his term.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying declared he had “basically” delivered all his election promises, a claim instantly refuted by his critics who also lamented the lack of initiatives to heal the social and political divides that have plagued his four years in power, although others hailed his shift of focus from politics to development and livelihood policies.

Watch: CY Leung’s policy address

“I don’t want to create any legacy, but I think it would be useful for everyone to actually go through the policy addresses of the past five years ... and ask ourselves whether or not these are the right policies and measures that people in Hong Kong need,” he said later at a press conference, when questioned on whether his successor, to be elected in March, would see his policies through.

“After I step down, speaking as a Hong Kong person, I would like ... the new government to continue to look after the underprivileged, particularly the elderly, to spend more on health care, to plough ahead on the basis of what we have done in this term, and on the land we will have made available by that time to build more housing, particularly subsidised housing.”

Full speed ahead for Hong Kong on the ‘one road’ strategy

In a separate briefing for editors, he said: “Nobody in my administration has the mentality of a sunset government.”

The major policies he announced in his speech before the Legislative Council, covering aspects including sports, education, labour, health and tourism, would roughly add up to a one-off expenditure of HK$26.4 billion.

The bulk of it – HK$20 billion – will be spent on revamping the city’s sports facilities. It was a surprise move by Leung, who once upset the city’s athletes and sports fans alike when he said the sector did not contribute to the economy.

Another highlight on Wednesday, as expected, was the scrapping of the controversial practice of allowing employers to use their contributions to workers’ pension funds to offset severance or long-service payments.

To honour his election promise to unionists and grass-roots groups, Leung said the government would “progressively abolish” the Mandatory Provident Fund offsetting mechanism.

On his pet subject, housing, Leung conceded problems in finding enough land to meet demand, urging the public to “dare to think out of the box and re-examine land use planning”.

He revived the contentious idea of developing country parks, saying the city should consider allocating a small portion of land in protected green areas with “relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value” for public housing and non-profit-making homes for the elderly.

Leung also proposed initiatives to support President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” development strategy, including a summit in September.

Hong Kong problems that are ‘too difficult’? We took them on, CY Leung says

As he ended his speech, Leung dropped his antagonistic tone at opponents as he warned against independence, saying Hong Kong’s autonomy “was not absolute or arbitrary” but to be guided by the Basic Law. He skipped the issue of electoral reform for the second consecutive year, leaving it in limbo since it was voted down by lawmakers in 2015.

He also spoke of his “affection and commitment” for Hong Kong, pledging to continue to serve the city and the country after stepping down.

Former civil service minister Joseph Wong Wing-ping, now a political commentator, said Wednesday’s policy speech was “probably Leung’s best”.

“Now he doesn’t have the political burden to show his allegiance to Beijing to seek another term, Leung has adopted a less confrontational political stance,” Wong said. “He may want to be remembered as a man of good policies, not a man playing politics.”

Chief executive aspirant Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said Leung had avoided the core issues of improving frayed ties with the legislature.

“This will take him nowhere because Legco can filibuster and hold up funding for his policies,” Ip said.