Political play by consummate bureaucrat wins the day
In her maiden policy address, Carrie Lam departed from her predecessors in both style and substance to show that she listens to what people actually want
In her maiden policy address, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor moved away from the fiscal conservatism of her former election rival John Tsang Chun-wah and reversed some key policies of her predecessor Leung Chun-ying. Instead, she embraced many demands of the opposition and the community over a range of livelihood and quality-of-life issues.
Her departure from previous administrations was both in form and substance. At the very start, she promised to release us from the boredom of the long-standing practice of giving a full reading of the policy address. Instead, she would simply cover the key issues in less than 45 minutes.
She then acknowledged the government is sitting on more than HK$1 trillion in fiscal reserves and needs to make better use of it. This means, among other initiatives, doubling spending on research and development to 1.5 per cent of GDP from the current 0.7 per cent.
It also means greater commitment to recurrent spending on education, welfare, especially for the elderly and children with special needs, and health care with a focus on an ageing population. There are new jobs to get more young people and minorities involved in government and policymaking.
Meanwhile, Lam will reverse an unpopular plan by Leung to build an extension of the Exhibition and Convention Centre on the Wan Chai Sports Ground. Instead, nearby government buildings will be redeveloped for the purpose. She is also giving up more government sites as one of several key initiatives to find more land for housing. We already know about the Starter Homes scheme to help families get on the home ownership ladder. Those who are qualified may also buy subsidised flats without having to pay a market premium.
More controversial is halving the profits tax of start-ups and small-to-medium enterprises, but even this is something opposition lawmakers can live with. Perhaps that’s why some shouted about “full democracy” and “releasing political prisoners” at the end. There wasn’t much else to shout about.
Lam may not have a grand leadership vision, but she knows what people have been complaining about. You can’t say she didn’t listen. Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was a career civil servant who never learned to become a politician, while Tung Chee-hwa and Leung never knew how to play the bureaucratic game. Lam the consummate bureaucrat has learned how to play politics.