I have never publicly vowed to tackle Hong Kong’s ‘three mountains’ of Link Reit, MTR fares and MPF offsetting: Carrie Lam
City’s chief executive says her remarks on three biggest thorns in the government’s side were made in a private meeting, and admits the Link issue is difficult
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she never publicly promised to take on “three mountains” – major issues faced by the city and reportedly identified by Lam two years ago – after lawmakers on Wednesday confronted her on the matter.
Lam made the remarks during a Legislative Council session in which she was questioned about the government’s performance in three areas: the controversial management of public housing malls by the Link Reit, repeated MTR fare increases and scrapping the offsetting mechanism for the Mandatory Provident Fund, which allows employers to dip into workers’ pension funds for severance and long-service payments.
Newly-elected pan-democratic lawmaker Au Nok-hin said while Lam had a plan to resolve the MPF offsetting issue and a policy to subsidise MTR passengers with the government’s share of the rail giant’s dividends, the problem of the Link, Asia’s largest real estate investment trust, had not been addressed.
Responding to Au during her monthly question-and-answer session in Legco, Lam said she had never made any public pledges about the “three mountains”.
“I have never said anything publicly about how to tackle the ‘three mountains’. It originated from a banquet,” Lam said.
According to sources, Lam, then the chief secretary, Hong Kong’s No 2 official, told some lawmakers in a closed-door gathering in May 2016 that the government aimed to conquer “three mountains”.
On the issue of rising MTR fares, Lam reiterated on Wednesday that the government would launch a non-means-tested transport subsidy scheme, which was first announced in her policy address last October.
The chief executive also said she was determined to scrap the MPF offsetting mechanism within her current term.
“As for the problem of the Link Reit, it is very difficult,” Lam said. “We need to respect a commercial society and respect private property rights.
“If the Link Reit sells [its assets] and the government buys them, does that solve [the problem?] … How much can we buy?”
The Link, which took over government-owned malls and markets in 2005, has been accused of adopting a business practice that pushes up rents and drives out small players.
In December last year, Lam admitted that “her hands were tied” on the issue, as she dismissed the suggestion to buy back shares of the Link as “foolish.”
Instead of repurchasing malls and markets from the Link, Lam said the government would increase the supply of public wet markets to satisfy grass-roots needs for daily goods.