The groundbreaking move will see cash provided later this year for research Political groups in Hong Kong for the first time will be able to apply for funding from the private sector for research in areas including public policies aimed at boosting party development. The fund, which will be offered by the Hong Kong Construction Association, has been warmly received by political parties and academics, who said it would help constitutional development. Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Patrick Chan Wing-tung, secretary-general of the association, confirmed that the fund would be launched in the third quarter of this year and would be open for applications from political and social organisations. While Mr Chan said that full details of the fund, application procedures and whether it would be permanent had yet to be decided, industry sources indicated that the fund could total several million dollars. Mr Chan said there would be no restrictions on which organisations could apply, and there would be no conditions on the areas where interested parties could use the money. 'It won't be only on construction policies. It could be on anything and we would judge their merits on a case by case basis,' Mr Chan said. He said among other options, applicants could use the money to employ full-time researchers or hold seminars or similar activities with the aim of furthering the organisations' development. Mr Chan admitted the concept of the fund emerged after a series of scandals in public housing construction in recent years when the construction industry was severely criticised, especially by legislators, for being responsible for several short-piling scams. He said the aim of the fund was to help legislators improve their policy-making decisions. 'After the short-piling incidents, we saw the importance and how valuable it would be for legislators to have better knowledge on the public policies they are dealing with. It is not a political exchange and we are not going to ask them to make any political deals in favour of our industry.' Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum welcomed the fund and said it would help develop party politics and constitutional development. But he warned the association against setting any conditions for funding which would influence the stance of parties. The Frontier's Emily Lau Wai-hing said: 'It is good to see business groups finally understand that political parties need support.' Political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung, of City University, said the political crisis in Hong Kong had made businesses realise the need to invest in party politics, but said it would take a long time for other trades to follow the association's example. Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, professor of public administration at City University, said the fund would be good for constitutional development but said that in order to generate quality policy research, a higher level of funding might be required. At present, the private sector offers no formal financial assistance for political parties. Limited funding for specific projects is offered occasionally by the government or academic institutions. The government is to introduce a system at next year's Legislative Council election whereby parties will receive $10 for each vote they receive, with the total sum to be capped at 50 per cent of a candidate's campaign spending. Financial help and donations to political parties from the private sector are common in many European countries and in the United States, where parties or political organisations can use the funding on policy research, party development or even canvassing. As there are no political party laws in Hong Kong, most parties are registered as societies. Their income comes mainly from donations by party members, membership fees and fund-raising activities.