Hong Kong’s new innovation and technology bureau must prove its worth by harnessing the power of the private sector

After much controversy, the government-funded body is up and running and the public rightly expects measurable results

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 December, 2015, 12:51am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 December, 2015, 1:02am

With innovation and technology well recognised as a new engine for growth and opportunity around the world, economies that fail to harness their full power and potential risk being left behind. The Hong Kong government also shares this view and is striving to oversee the development of the sector with a new policy bureau. After much ado, the bureau is operating at full swing.

But this new engine of growth is apparently still waiting for a manual to kick-start its efforts. A look at the bureau’s website reveals little about how to turn a grand vision into reality. Browsers are only told that the government is determined to develop Hong Kong into a knowledge-based economy and an innovation hub for technology in the region, and that it will strive to create a vibrant ecosystem for the public, private and academic sectors to interact under a favourable environment. But a comprehensive action plan is still lacking.

The new innovation and technology chief, Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, sought to fill the gaps in his first media gathering. He noted that the private sector in the region spent more on research than the public sector. For instance, the ratio between public and private investment in Singapore in the sector can reach 3 to 7. Yang is right in urging the private sector to take a more active role. Many local businesses have long been focusing on quick gains. It is not in their nature to spend time and money on ventures without guaranteed returns. The lack of institutional support and financial incentives means research and development are not the priority. To achieve Yang’s ambition to reverse the current public-private investment ratio of 6 to 4, businesses need incentives to spend more on innovation and technology. The government should seriously consider the tax concessions recommended by Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank set up by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

The foundation also rightly urged the government to raise public spending on research, from the current 0.4 per cent of GDP to 1 per cent over the next 10 years. But this should be matched by more vigorous efforts to turn the sector into commercially viable ventures as well. Many projects have good potential. But they often remain in academic discourse without thought to market development. More needs to be done to bridge the gap. Innovation and technology take time to take off. Now that the bureau has been established, the public rightly expects results.