Chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam pledges HK$5 billion for education, tax cuts and housing task force
The former No 2 official reveals further details of manifesto just a day before nominations for candidates open
Chief executive contender Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised to boost education spending, give the city’s small businesses a tax cut and improve access to housing at a widely-anticipated press conference Monday.
Held at the Tsim Sha Tsui District Kai Fong Welfare Association and titled “WeConnect: Manifesto Step 2”, the city’s former chief secretary also defended her decision to delay a her full election platform until early next month, well after nominations for chief executive candidates – which open Tuesday – come to a close.
The former No 2 official, who quit last month to run in the chief executive election, is widely considered Beijing’s favoured candidate for the top job.
Here’s how Monday’s press conference went down, minute by minute.
Carrie Lam opened the press conference saying she would touch on three main areas – developing the city’s economy, education and housing.
She stressed that she would work towards building a more inclusive society and invited the public to share their views on the three areas.
“Of course, a manifesto cannot only cover three areas. In the first half of March, I shall announce a full manifesto that will cover all aspects,” she said.
Describing the government’s education expenditure as at “a new low”, the chief executive contender vowed to “immediately add HK$5 billion” to the key portfolio.
“Education is an investment that should be stable and continuous,” she said.
“My vision is for [students] to acquire both an understanding in the country and passion for Hong Kong.”
In 2016-17, the government’s recurrent spending on education was about HK$74.7 billion.
“An extra HK$5 billion a year will see the recurrent spending in education account for some 22.6 per cent of the total government recurrent spending,” Lam said.
She said the funding boost would create an environment that teachers could feel stable in, and students’ workloads eased.
The plan would include setting a pay scale for kindergarten teachers, additional subsidies to allow schools to hire more primary and secondary teachers and improving special education. Her plan would also see more subsidies for secondary graduates pursuing tertiary education.
Lam said there had been “problems” with how education policies were implemented in recent years.
On the city’s economy, Lam proposed two new tax measures to relieve the burden on Hong Kong’s small- and medium-sized enterprises – a move she said would boost investment in research and development.
A two-tier tax regime would result in a 10 to 16.5 per cent reduction for firms with an annual profit less than HK$2 million.
She also proposed “super deductions” for investments in innovation and technology, research and development, environmental protection measures, arts and culture and design.
Lam cited the city’s low expenditure in research and development industries – at less than 1 per cent annually over the past decade, compared with 4 per cent in South Korea, 3.5 per cent in Japan and 2 per cent on the mainland.
Lam acknowledged that current house prices were beyond the reach of many buyers.
She promised to take “a macro view” of the issue, and look into creating more land for housing through reclamation, urban redevelopment, developing brownfield sites or country parks.
She said it would take a typical two-member Hong Konig family earning HK$60,000 per month some 12 years to save enough money for a down payment on a HK$6 million flat.
If elected, and as part of her pledge to get more young people into their own home, she vowed to form a task force charged with expanding land resources.
Defending the delay in announcing her full manifesto, Lam said she started her campaign late and that “it naturally takes more time” to collect views from the public and stakeholders.
“Governance is not about a manifesto. It is more about my heart, my attitude, and integrity,” Lam told media.
Asked why she had made no mention of democracy or political reform during her policy announcement, Lam pledged to include both issues in her final platform next month.
“The fact that you’re not listening to them today doesn’t mean they would not appear in my platform.
“In the past three to four weeks, I have met a lot people and listened to many views that are related to what I am introducing today. I understand there are concerns about political development and democracy. They are important topics and I shall explain them in the later stage,” she said.
“For the meantime, I hope society can focus more on the three areas that I propose today.”
She said major concerns raised by members of the Election Committee were housing, young people and each different subsectors’ affairs.
“So, the election is not only about one issue [political reforms],” says Lam
She went on to criticise opponents to increasing housing land supply.
“When government talks about reclamation, they say no. When government talks about urban renewal, they say no. When it’s just about slightly touching the country parks, they say no,” she said.
Lam urged Hongkongers to actively discuss the best ways to improve land supply, especially for young professionals.
She said she hoped to provide affordable housing for young professionals who have no property, but whose incomes are too high for public housing. Those flats, which are only for permanent Hong Kong residents, would be around 450 sq ft and nothing luxurious, she said.
Lam said her understanding of tax policies was that “less is more”, and that abolishing estate duty or reducing wine taxes had brought benefits.
“It’s not simply about the direct ins and outs,” she said.
Asked whether her emphasis on government education spending was a direct attack on former finance chief turned chief executive race rival John Tsang Chun-wah, she said: “Financial planning has been the prerogative of the financial secretary … [even before] the handover.”
“As chief secretary, there would be a responsibility to suggest prioritisation of policy area spending, but it doesn’t mean [I] would do financial planning on behalf of the financial secretary.”
She insisted that she was not accusing Tsang of anything.
“I’m not here to blame anyone, I’m here to give the facts,” she said. “We should at least give education a fair share.”
On education, the former chief secretary said entering university should not be the only goal for secondary school leavers. They should be willing and permitted to enter other forms of post-secondary schooling, such as vocational education.
Lam concluded the 50-minute press conference.