Carrie Lam focuses on housing, education and tax, but dodges Hong Kong’s big political issues

Chief executive contender promises to explain her views on political reform when her full platform is ready early next month after nominations close

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 11:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 2:14am

Chief executive contender Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Monday unveiled a partial election platform promising more affordable homes, billions more spending on education and tax cuts for small firms, while giving wide berth to contentious political issues.

The only candidate among the four runners not to have announced her full platform ahead of the two-week nomination period which begins on Tuesday, Lam attributed the delay to her starting her campaign late. It would take time to collect views from the public and stakeholders and so she would be ready with a full plan early next month.

That did not stop two influential Beijing-loyalist parties, which have more than 120 seats in the Election Committee, from endorsing the former chief secretary on Monday.

A candidate needs 150 nominations from the committee to qualify for the race and 601 votes to win. The 1,194-member panel will pick the city’s next leader on March 26.

The numbers all add up for Carrie Lam in Hong Kong leadership race

On her partial platform, Lam said: “Governance is not only about a manifesto. It is more about my heart, my attitude and integrity.”

She promised to explain her views on political reform when her full platform was ready early next month.

Expanding on her previous promise to “comprehensively review the education system to create a stable, caring and inspiring environment” for all, Lam lamented the shrinking share of spending on education.

The proportion of government spending on education this year, at 21.5 per cent, was the lowest since the 1997 handover, and if she were elected she would “immediately add HK$5 billion”, she said.

“An extra HK$5 billion a year will see the recurrent spending on education account for some 22.6 per cent of total government recurrent spending,” Lam said. The government’s recurrent spending on education in the 2016-17 financial year was about HK$74.7 billion.

Carrie Lam skirts contentious issues with ‘half manifesto for the middle class’

She added that the extra funding could be used to set a pay scale for kindergarten teachers and allow schools to hire additional teachers or offer more subsidies for secondary school graduates pursuing tertiary education.

Ip Kin-yuen, the lawmaker representing the education sector, said he was glad to see candidates such as Lam responding to such demands.

“But Lam needs to further elaborate on issues such as the abolition of TSA in her detailed platform,” Ip said, referring to the controversial Territory-wide System Assessment in schools, which many say puts too much pressure on pupils.

Lam also promised to provide affordable housing for first-time homebuyers in the “sandwich class” – those earning too much to qualify for public housing but not enough to buy in the private sector.

On the city’s economy, she suggested two new tax measures to relieve the burden on small and medium-sized enterprises – a move she said would boost investment in research and development.

A two-tier tax regime would result in a tax reduction from 16.5 per cent to 10 per cent for firms with an annual profit of less than HK$2 million.

She also proposed “super deductions” for investments in areas such as innovation and technology, research and development, as well as environmental protection measures.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said Lam’s focus on the relatively less controversial issues seemed to suggest her eagerness to avoid a further dip in her public popularity.

Two of her rivals in the chief executive contest – John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing – seized on Lam’s lack of a full platform.

A Tsang spokesman said she should reveal it as soon as possible to enable Election Committee members to decide. Woo urged her not to “dodge the issue of political reform”.

Additional reporting by Joyce Ng

A comparison of the key plans of the four chief executive contenders on tax, housing and education.

TAX:

Carrie Lam

• Two-tier profits tax for companies, cutting tax rate from 16.5 per cent to 10 per cent on the first HK$2 million of taxable profits

• R&D expenditure invested by enterprises to be eligible for “super tax deductions” higher than the amount spent

John Tsang

• Examine feasibility of introducing a progressive profits tax and a negative income tax

Regina Ip

• Set up an inland revenue committee to review Hong Kong’s taxation system

Woo Kwok-hing

• Tax refunds to attract people to take out medical insurance

• Tax incentives to encourage the private sector to recruit more disabled people

HOUSING:

Carrie Lam

• Form a taskforce with professionals and local residents to discuss options for boosting housing land supply

• Create new class of subsidised housing above the home ownership scheme for middle-class permanent residents and first-time home buyers

John Tsang

• Provide public housing accommodation for 60 per cent of the population

• Build affordable homes for the sandwich class

Regina Ip

• Prices of home ownership scheme flats should be referenced to medium monthly domestic household income

• Study feasibility of developing green belt sites and country parks near urban areas

Woo Kwok-hing

• Set aside sites for first-time ownership housing for Hong Kong permanent residents

­• Phase out the 15 per cent double stamp duty for non-first-time home buyers within five years

EDUCATION:

Carrie Lam

• Increase recurrent expenditure on education by HK$5 billion each year

• Review education policies to create a stable, caring, inspiring and satisfying environment for students, teachers, school heads and parents

John Tsang

• Review early childhood curriculum to stop rote learning

• Abolish TSA or BCA assessment tests

Regina Ip

• Increase subsidy for whole-day or long whole-day kindergartens or nurseries

• Put an end to TSA and BCA assessments

• Make Chinese history a compulsory and independent subject in junior secondary classes

Woo Kwok-hing

• Abolish TSA and BCA assessments

• Full subsidies for whole-day and long whole-day non-profit kndergartens

• Chinese history should be made independent subject