Carrie Lam should push on and split up bureau
The transport and housing portfolio is too big for one minister and, in the wake of MTR scandals and the need for homes, it should be broken up
Ideally, the chief executive should have a free hand to revamp the government according to policy commitments and priorities. In reality, this is easier said than done.
Reshuffling bureaus often involves extra spending, which makes it a hard sell to our money-conscious society. It may even become futile if lawmakers join hands to drag or block the proceedings.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor appeared reluctant to revive any talk of restructuring when summing up her work in the first year.
She later made it clear that there were no intentions to do so, adding that she did not want to be distracted from other more pressing issues. When asked about a possible split of his Transport and Housing Bureau, minister Frank Chan Fan said he would prefer keeping the housing portfolio.
The combination of transport and housing into one bureau has long been an issue of concern. The scope of the two policy areas is so vast that there is simply too much for one minister to handle.
As Lam has given priority to housing, it makes more sense to put development and housing in one bureau. The case for splitting the bureau becomes even stronger in the wake of scandals over shoddy construction works at the Sha Tin-Central rail link and the cost overruns and delays of the cross-border high-speed line, both involving the MTR Corporation.
Unlike the first two chief executives who were able to reshuffle or expand the ministerial tiers without much hassle, it took two years for the former chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, to create a new Innovation and Technology Bureau, which formed part of his election manifesto. The delay owed much to the prevailing political tension with pro-democracy lawmakers.
Now that the atmosphere is relatively more relaxed, it may be a good time to put restructuring on the agenda. Some lawmakers said the government needed to provide a clear housing strategy before supporting the split.
But performances in the two portfolios risk deteriorating further if there is insufficient leadership and supervision. Lam should have the courage to push ahead if the revamp can foster better progress in housing and transport. It is also in the public interest for lawmakers to support it.