Innovation and Technology Bureau just the first step in bringing Hong Kong to the sector's fore
At long last, the Innovation and Technology Bureau can be set up. After three years of wrangling with some lawmakers, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has secured funding for the bureau, a centrepiece of his government restructuring. If everything goes well, the bureau will be ready for operation in two weeks.
More than 1,300 days have passed since Leung made the bureau part of his election platform. This is a long time for a five-year tenure. The delay was the result of strained relations between the top leader and pan-democrats, who sought to block the funding even before he took up the job. Although the policy portfolio was still overseen by the commerce and economic development bureau during the period, better progress could have been made had the time been spent on some real work rather than filibustering.
There is a lot to catch up with. According to the government, the bureau will oversee a wide range of issues, including formulating holistic policies to support the development of technology infrastructure and manpower; encouraging synergy among government, industry, academia and the research sector; as well as leveraging the advantages of the industrial and manufacturing sectors on the mainland.
The challenge ahead is daunting. But the Leung administration is not starting from scratch. Frustrated by the repeated delays, the chief executive made an early start by appointing Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung as his IT adviser and an executive councillor early this year. Widely tipped to be the bureau chief, Yang has been tapping views from industry representatives, and has joined Leung's overseas visits. Now that the final hurdle to establish the bureau has been cleared, public expectations on Yang and his team will grow. The bureau will cost taxpayers more than HK$60 million a year.
A dedicated policy bureau is just the first step. An IT commission was put in place as early as 2000 by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. While there has been no shortage of government funding and research projects on this front, results are another matter. In an innovation index compiled by an international media organisation last year, Hong Kong ranked 27th among the world's most innovative countries and places, trailing behind neighbours such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. To put the city at the forefront of innovation and technology, a lot more needs to be done.