My Take

Hong Kong battle over innovation lacks innovation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 1:59am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 1:59am

Leung Chun-ying rarely shrinks from a fight. Neither do pan-democrats in the legislature. So in the absence of any headline issue worth fighting over, some pan-dems have picked the proposed technology bureau as the latest battleground.

The bureau will cost HK$39 million to set up, and the chief executive wants Legco's Finance Committee to hold extra meetings to approve the funding for his pet project before lawmakers leave for the summer. No doubt he feels the committee and its members, including some pan-dems, owe him that much. After all, he agreed to reshuffle agenda items last week, thereby enabling the approval of HK$6.6 billion worth of livelihood-related subsidies and sweeteners while shifting the bureau's funding from being the top agenda item to the last.

Pan-democrats such as People Power's Raymond Chan Chi-chuen and Albert Chan Wai-yip feel no obligation to comply. Since there is nothing big to fight over before Legco's summer recess, they have promised to filibuster if Leung gets his extra meetings.

No one doubts Hong Kong lags behind in innovation and technology. It's just that few people actually think the bureau would help jump-start either.

It's a storm-in-a-teacup fight, though. HK$39 million is small beer when we are staring at a HK$20 billion cost overrun - and rising - with the Guangzhou Express Rail and the projected HK$141 billion-plus required to build the airport's third runway. And not all pan-dems oppose the bureau proposal. Charles Mok, the lawmaker for the information technology sector, supports it.

Leung and his team never seriously address the question of why we need another planning bureau when we already have subsidised centres for technology such as Cyberport, Science Park, and numerous research institutes at our universities. Admittedly, Cyberport and Science Park have not been great successes. Still, shouldn't the fund - earmarked for the bureau - be better used to revitalise existing institutions with extra funding for proven centres of research excellence at our top universities? And what about the role of the private sector?

Politicians rhapsodise about innovation. Usually they have no idea how to achieve it, so let's set up a bureau for more bureaucracy.