Chief executive’s policy address 2017

Divisions remain despite Lam’s promise of a new beginning

Reactions to the chief executive’s policy address mainly mirror the political divide except for one notable exception

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 October, 2017, 8:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 October, 2017, 11:28pm

Even as Hong Kong’s leader pledged a new beginning, many of the same old divisions in the Legislative Council were apparent in reactions to her maiden policy address on Wednesday.

Most in the pro-establishment majority praised Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s address for providing solutions to the city’s social and economic woes while opposition lawmakers were critical, saying Lam seemed to evade the political chasm that they say exists in the city.

However, at least one person in the pro-Beijing camp was critical of Lam’s speech. New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a former candidate for chief executive, noted that Lam stopped short of saying that she will push forward any political reform.

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“Those who are hoping for more democracy in Hong Kong would be disappointed,” she said, although she also praised Lam for “focusing on livelihood and economic issues”.

In an unusually short policy speech lasting 40 minutes, Lam proposed launching a new “Starter Homes” scheme to help first-time buyers, while more than 4,000 new public flats will be offered as part of the “Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Pilot Scheme” by the end of 2018. Profits tax on the first HK$2 million a business makes will drop to 8.25 per cent, or half the standard rate.

But Ip said Lam should disclose more details about the “starter home” project, such as the level of discount of the housing units.

“I would give this address 60 marks out of 100. Marks can be added if officials explain more in the coming days.”

The pro-establishment Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan said Lam adopted many of the Liberals’ policy recommendations.

“The measure on profit tax will benefit a lot of small and medium enterprises,”Chung said.

In the pan-democratic camp, education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen also praised Lam for her proposals for the higher education sector.

But Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said while Lam rolled out a series of economic and welfare policies, the initiatives alone would not relieve the societal tension that hangs over the city.

Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, leader of the Civic Party, also criticised Lam for not delivering a plan to reconcile the social division created by her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying.

“Only one paragraph in the policy address touched on political reform – the lack of which is exactly a major reason behind Hong Kong’s deep-seated problems, and it didn’t offer any new solution,” said Yeung.

Pro-establishment lawmakers countered that it was “wise” for Lam to focus on economic growth and improving people’s lives.

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said solving social problems could create conditions to reach consensus on political controversies such as electoral reform or the enactment of national security legislation.

“Hong Kong cannot evade [national security] legislationbut if the government restarts the work for these complicated and controversial problems in a haste, energy of the officials and the society will be diffused,” said Lee.

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Hong Kong is required, under Article 23 of its mini-constitution, to enact laws against treason, sedition and subversion, but the government has yet to initiate the process, fearing social conflict again after the first attempt was met with massive protests in 2003.

Only the 23rd and 24th paragraphs in the 49,000-word official policy address document touched on the controversies of electoral reform and legislation for the Article 23 of the Basic Law.

In the 24th paragraph of the address, Lam regretted that the political reform trio led by her in the last government failed to secure election of the chief executive through one person, one vote, and that “the unlawful Occupy Central movement launched by some people has led to social conflicts”.

Lam receive initial support from the private sector.

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce praised her efforts in boosting Hong Kong’s competitiveness, citing her proposed initiatives on information and technology development and investment in research and development.

But the chamber expressed caution over housing plans, warning in a statement that too much intervention in the property market “runs the risk of creating unintentional side effects”.