Chief executive’s policy address 2017

Hong Kong needs active governance and Carrie Lam can deliver

Mike Rowse gives the chief executive good marks for her first policy address, for pledging proactive action in many areas including the use of fiscal reserves, as well as for having the good sense to leave out any mention of independence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 October, 2017, 12:04pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 October, 2017, 5:30pm

I am inclined to give a high mark to the 2017 policy address: a B, maybe even a B-plus. The title – “We Connect for Hope and Happiness” – was a bit cheesy but the overall spirit was definitely right.

Take the timing and setting. By bringing the speech back to its traditional October date, as members requested, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor gave face to the Legislative Council. After all, the main purpose is to set out the government’s priorities for the year, almost all of which will require either legislation, funding approval or both. It is surely more appropriate to do this at the first session of the legislative year so that members have a good picture of the overall workload coming their way.

Restricting the content to major themes and principles enabled her to deliver the speech in less than an hour, with all the nuts and bolts of government activities set out in a separate document. This was surely a welcome break from tradition, as many past speeches came across more like a shopping list than a thoughtful political treatise.

Our legislators should preserve their stamina for the substance of the job, not fighting off yawns. Lam’s manner and bearing also pointed toward a more cooperative approach than the guerilla warfare of recent years.

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Most important, the overall spirit of the speech was optimism and determination to act in all the aspects of concern to Hong Kong citizens. Yes, we face problems and challenges, but we have the resources to address them and a new-found willingness to draw on our copious fiscal reserves to do so.

The section on governance pointed to an enhanced role for the government in social and economic development, matched by the provision of additional staff. It was refreshing to note the implied admission that more duties and demand for services requires more workers. No more pretending that an overstretched civil service can find unlimited efficiencies. The section also included a specific commitment to finally extend key sections of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance to the post of chief executive, a recommendation put forward many years ago but left to gather dust.

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The economy section was full of ideas and initiatives, with money set aside where necessary to implement them. I do not agree with the details of some proposals, but I very much endorse the idea that we cannot squirrel away fiscal reserves while waiting for the market to fix everything by itself. The government needs to be more proactive, more of a facilitator and promoter and less of a passive observer stepping in when things go wrong.

Particularly welcome was the decision to put on one side “for the time being” the proposal to use the Wan Chai Sports Ground site to expand the existing Convention and Exhibition Centre.

With incidence of diabetes rising, and an increasing problem of child obesity, it was scandalous to suggest scrapping a facility schools on Hong Kong Island use extensively. Linking future expansion to comprehensive redevelopment of the area including, one hopes, a thorough traffic assessment, will take much longer but is surely more sensible.

The education section touched the right buttons. The proposed doubling of places for children with special needs was welcome.

Other sections dealt well enough with traditional livelihood and other issues. The ideas for tackling our appalling housing situation were limited, but at least there were signs of determination and creativity. In a wealthy modern society, there should be no place for flats the size of a coffin.

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In some ways the best part was what wasn’t mentioned: the nonsensical idea of independence. Why provide kindling for a fire that has mostly gone out by itself? There was similar skill on display in covering Article 23 legislation and political reform issues: yes, we need to do them, but we need a better political atmosphere in which to make meaningful progress.

A speech of this calibre should go some way toward creating such an atmosphere. On reflection, a definite B-plus.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises. [email protected]