My Take

Link Management has proved its worth to investors and shoppers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 1:45am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 1:45am

The Link Management was formed to take over the privatised shopping malls and parking areas from the Housing Authority. Ever since, there have been periodic calls for the government to take them back from private hands.

Their rationale is that big chains and corporate brands have been taking over those malls, squeezing out the "mom and pop" shops that can't afford the rising rents.

Unfortunately it's too late in the day to reverse that now. After a decade, the privatisation argument has won - it works.

The Link, both as a real estate investment trust and a manager of malls, has proved its worth - to investors and customers. It is a rare example of a radical scheme under the post-handover government that actually worked out as it was advertised.

In any case, there is no way the government would engineer a takeover after winning the bitter privatisation battle a decade ago. There are still die-hard critics, though, like the watchdog Link Watch.

Probably realising the government would never take over The Link again, it has come up with a loony scheme, or it would have been perceived as such if the government itself has not been party to such schemes before.

It wants the government to become a majority shareholder in The Link, presumably to make it more "socially responsible", whatever that means.

One supposes the idea comes from the government's majority stake in the MTR as well as it being the sole equity owner of the airport.

In that sense, Link Watch's idea isn't crazy: the government does it too. Whether the MTR and the airport are good examples to emulate is another question.

But even if the government takes up a large stake in The Link, the mom and pop shops aren't coming back. Three out of four retail shops at The Link's malls are already corporate or belong to a chain or a franchise.

And why should taxpayers subsidise those small shops by artificially keeping rents low when their products aren't necessarily cheaper or better, say compared to a supermarket?

Between having run-down and dirty public estate markets with small retailers and clean if homogenous malls, Hong Kong has already made its choice.