No matter that Housing Authority chairman Rosanna Wong Yick-ming tried to put on a brave face by saying that the proposal to turn 16,000 Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats into rental apartments over the next four years was a pragmatic response to changing market conditions. Or that the authority had no choice but to dispose of these flats by renting them because, after a spate of scandals involving substandard piling, few would use their hard-earned savings to buy a unit that might stand on faulty foundations. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's administration will now be seen as yielding to property developers' calls to prop up the market, for the authority's decision comes after weeks of sustained demands by developers to suspend the sales of HOS flats and government land. Their lobbying effort peaked on Wednesday when the Bank of China's Hong Kong-Macau regional office warned in a report that further falls in property prices would hurt the economy and the Liberal Party announced plans for a rally tomorrow to demand action. Apart from trimming the provision of HOS flats, the authority will also increase the quota of home purchase loans and shorten the period of pre-completion sale, so the next batch of HOS flats will not be put on the market until early next year. It will also adopt a flexible approach to building public housing flats so the number for sale or rent can be adjusted depending on market conditions. These measures have one result: they reduce the supply of subsidised flats for sale and encourage home buyers to buy the large number of empty flats built by private developers. No wonder that the stock market rose sharply yesterday after getting wind of the proposals. Not surprisingly, property stocks showed the biggest gains. Compared to the number of private sector flats scheduled for completion, the 16,000 HOS flats to be withheld from the market over the next four years is small. The combined effect of all the measures, however, constitutes a significant injection of confidence into the market. The Government is coy about whether further action might be taken to stimulate demand. But it would appear that additional measures, such as relaxing the 70 per cent mortgage ceiling or suspending land sales, would amount to more than the small amount of tinkering that is necessary to rectify cracks in the market. In any event, the latest policy turnaround will not absolve Mr Tung and Ms Wong of their responsibility in relation to the depressed state of the housing market and the quality of public housing. If Hong Kong had a fully democratic system, allowing people to choose their leader, Mr Tung would certainly face defeat in the next election for aggravating, if not causing, the wild swings of the property market over the past three years. And if a ministerial system were in place, Ms Wong and Director of Housing Tony Miller would almost certainly have been forced to resign over the series of scandals about loose supervision and corruption at public housing construction sites. Indeed, a ministerial system is what all the major political parties want to plug a serious flaw in Hong Kong's political system. At present, even though policy secretaries function like ministers with responsibility for formulating and implementing policies, they are not expected to take political responsibility for any blunders because they are career civil servants. The community is clearly unhappy that no senior official is ever sanctioned, even after making costly mistakes. Already, the parties have served notice that they will join hands to endorse a motion on June 26 calling on Ms Wong and Mr Miller to resign to take responsibility for their inept leadership of the Housing Authority and Housing Department. With Beijing firmly against any changes to Hong Kong's executive-led governmental system, however, the two are likely to remain in their hot seats, even though they may have already found the heat too much to bear. For their departure would signal a dent to the system, a system Mr Tung must maintain at all cost. Ms Wong and Mr Miller have shown dedication and commitment in overhauling the public housing programme. But after so many mistakes during their tenure, they must be blamed for failing to put a halt to shoddy work. But hang on they must, because that is Beijing's desired way of administering Hong Kong, even though the Basic Law does not preclude the introduction of a ministerial system by making policy secretaries political appointees.