Overburdened bureaus need restructuring

  • Giving some policy bureaus excessive mandates has contributed to numerous policy mishaps and failures
  • Restructuring the Transport and Housing Bureau should be the priority
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 5:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 10:34pm

During his tenure, disgraced former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen kept property prices high and land supply low. He also restructured the policy bureaus by combining public housing and transport under a single bureaucratic roof.

Arguably, the bureaus’ overburdening with excessive mandates contributed to numerous policy mishaps and failures, whose consequences we are still living with today. Yet, it has taken the government more than a decade to finally split up the Transport and Housing Bureau. Well, better late than never!

Of course, it is not the only bureau that needs to be restructured. Under three chief executives, the government’s structure has become unruly, with some bureaus overburdened while a few others contribute little.

But restructuring the Transport and Housing Bureau should be the priority.

It has been obvious for some time that its secretary Frank Chan Fan is out of his depth. Under Chan, the bureau has had to confront an ongoing construction scandal with the Sha Tin-Central rail link; the controversial joint checkpoint at the West Kowloon high-speed rail terminus; repeat large-scale service disruptions of the MTR subway; and the opening of the Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macau Bridge. The last has led to an influx of mainland visitors to Tung Chung and provoked anger among residents and localist activists.

Hong Kong government to split up troubled Transport and Housing Bureau

Any one of these problems would have been taxing even for competent officials. But they are coupled with an ever lengthening queue for public housing, which has reached five years and three months and will worsen in the next few years.

This is especially problematic for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has made housing a top policy priority. It’s true she inherited the problem from her predecessors. But people are getting fed up with a lack of substantial improvement with their housing situations.

Splitting up the bureau won’t be enough to tackle such monumental problems, but at least there will be more dedicated manpower and resources to address them individually.

Meanwhile, we are waiting to see what policy achievements and concrete differences the Innovation and Technology Bureau, championed by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, will deliver. Lam’s government has generously earmarked HK$50 billion, which effectively makes bureau secretary Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, the city’s tech tsar.

It may not be fair to judge him at this early stage. But the public remains to be convinced of the need for the expensive exercise and for Yang’s bureau itself.