The Housing Authority's plan to sell its 130 shopping malls and 100,000 car parking spaces is founded on the realisation that it will not be able to continue to balance its books by using surpluses from profitable operations to subsidise loss-making ones. With the abolition of the Home Ownership Scheme, the authority can no longer depend on the proceeds of selling flats to subsidise the costs of managing and maintaining its 640,000 rental units. The pressure to tackle its budgetary shortfall has intensified after a court ruled that it has overcharged tenants, exposing it to a potential claim of $4.5 billion. While the authority's privatisation move is prompted by a dire need for cash, unleashing the value of its assets is a step it should have made years ago, and one that other public bodies, whether or not they are facing fiscal pressure, should also contemplate. The Housing Authority's mission is the provision of affordable housing to low-income families. Although public housing estates need to have shops and car parks, the authority has no business owning or managing them. In the spirit of 'big market, small government', it is only proper that the authority should dispose of these properties so they can be more efficiently run by the private sector. What needs to be guarded against now is the risk that politics will get in the way of the privatisation. The 700 staff of the authority affected by the move may mount a vociferous opposition to any forced redundancies, while shop owners at the malls have already aired concerns that rents may go up. Motorists are also likely to join in the fray by protesting against higher rents for parking spaces. Their concerns deserve to be carefully considered and handled, but they should not be allowed to detract from the objectives of the exercise, which are to unlock the values of assets that the authority need not own and to reduce its payroll. With the estimated $20 billion proceeds from the sell-off, the authority will be able to forestall a projected deficit of $12 billion by 2006-07. However, for as long as the authority's rental operation remains in the red, there will be no end to its fiscal problems. Many tenants now face no pressure to move out even after they have become well off. It is time the policy of using public funds to build an endless supply of rental units for low-income families was reviewed. Sitting tenants should be subject to stricter and more frequent means tests, and those found to have breached the asset and income limits required to vacate their flats. More flexible and efficient means of helping the needy to meet their housing needs, such as private rental subsidies, should also be pursued. Should that become policy, there would be no need for the authority to maintain construction and housing management divisions.