Chief Ex­ec­u­tive can­di­dates must pri­or­i­tize liveli­hood is­sues

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - PA U L S U R T E E S

With sev­eral well-known can­di­dates now vy­ing to be elected next March as Hong Kong’s fourth Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, the public may hope that each will soon set out her or his elec­toral plat­form — a man­i­festo stat­ing their re­spec­tive key pol­icy ob­jec­tives as our next leader and how those ob­jec­tives can be re­al­is­ti­cally achieved. Af­ter al­most 20 years of hav­ing Hong Kong chief ex­ec­u­tives, it can be safely said that this is ar­guably the most dif­fi­cult job in town. All the more rea­son, then, for the can­di­dates to lay out their man­i­festos clearly to let vot­ers de­cide which of them pos­sess the right vi­sion and, hence, are most de­serv­ing of their sup­port.

Some of the richer coun­tries, such as Kuwait and those in Scan­di­navia, gen­er­ously ex­pend a good part of their in­come on en­hanc­ing the med­i­cal and so­cial ser­vices avail­able to their cit­i­zens. Hong Kong is equally wealthy, but so far the pro­vi­sion made for many of its most needy cit­i­zens re­mains min­i­mal in pro­por­tion to our re­sources. A new CE would hope­fully bring changes. Bear­ing in mind that all of those so far ex­press­ing in­ter­est in stand­ing for this elec­tion are near­ing or well past re­tire­ment age, the Hong Kong public can hope The writer is a sea­soned lo­cal com­men­ta­tor, univer­sity lec­turer and hon­orary life­time ad­viser to the Hong Kong Fed­er­a­tion of the Blind. that more sup­port­ive mea­sures to ad­dress the needs of this ag­ing so­ci­ety will be­come a ma­jor part of their re­spec­tive plat­forms. Here are a few im­por­tant points that they might con­sider in­cor­po­rat­ing in their elec­tion man­i­festos.

The first and most ob­vi­ous prob­lem area re­quir­ing bold new mea­sures is the dearth of de­cent but af­ford­able hous­ing. Sadly, too many of Hong Kong’s cit­i­zens are squeezed into ap­palling cage homes, be­cause that is all they can af­ford. Poor el­derly peo­ple make up a large part of the un­for­tu­nate cage home pop­u­la­tion. The pro­vi­sion of more res­i­den­tial and day care homes for the el­derly un­well would also be wel­come, es­pe­cially as that is clearly go­ing to be­come a fast-grow­ing cat­e­gory as our pop­u­la­tion ages.

One of the rea­sons for Hong Kong’s abysmally low birth rate is that most of our young peo­ple, newly mar­ried and at an early stage of their ca­reers (mean­ing not very well paid and with min­i­mal sav­ings), wouldn’t even dream of buy­ing a home to bring up chil­dren. Spe­cial mea­sures should be in­tro­duced to make de­cent hous­ing af­ford­able to this cat­e­gory of cit­i­zens — rep­re­sent­ing, as they do, the fu­ture of Hong Kong. Per­haps some in­cen­tives could be in­tro­duced by pro­vid­ing hous­ing sub­si­dies to new­ly­weds, thereby en­cour­ag­ing them to have chil­dren. It’s worth not­ing that the high cost of hous­ing is the main cause of the cur­rent so­cial and po­lit­i­cal dis­con­tent.

It is now clear most peo­ple will not be able to re­tire com­fort­ably un­der the Manda­tory Prov­i­dent Fund scheme. For a start, a sim­ple re­fund of con­tri­bu­tions upon re­tire­ment is far from ad­e­quate: A monthly paid pen­sion is what’s needed. Fur­ther­more, many of those al­ready in re­tire­ment have no pen­sion at all to sus­tain their de­clin­ing years in dig­nity and com­fort. The mas­sive fi­nan­cial re­serves held by the govern­ment — the peo­ple’s money — could be dipped into to cover the one-off costs of set­ting up a real pen­sion scheme that pro­vides each re­tir­ing cit­i­zen with a liv­able pen­sion.

To en­sure that any­one will­ing to work would get their just deserts, the min­i­mum wage ought to be raised fur­ther. A max­i­mum num­ber of over­time hours could be man­dated. Both th­ese steps would greatly en­hance the qual­ity of life of thou­sands of our work­ing class cit­i­zens.

Re­gret­tably, with old age (and Hong Kong now has the world’s long­est life ex­pectancy) of­ten comes de­clin­ing health. Many more clin­ics and hos­pi­tals need to be es­tab­lished; more med­i­cal staff need to be trained, and our doors open to qual­i­fied med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers from over­seas to help ad­dress the cur­rent se­vere short­age of med­i­cal staff.

More de­ter­mined ef­forts should be made to clear pave­ments of ob­sta­cles — mainly mer­chan­dise from shops and din­ing tables from ground floor restau­rants. Presently they are caus­ing chal­lenges to able-bod­ied pedes­tri­ans and dan­gers to the old, the frail, the blind and the dis­abled among us. Where prac­ti­ca­ble con­sid­er­a­tion should be given to re-sit­ing lamp­posts, plant tubs, wa­ter hy­drants and the like which too of­ten are lo­cated mid-pave­ment. Ef­forts should be made to en­sure that ev­ery Hong Kong stair­case has a handrail. Many more public toi­lets are clearly needed here, in­clud­ing those de­signed for the dis­abled.

All th­ese prac­ti­cal steps would help im­prove our city’s liv­abil­ity. Let us hope our CE can­di­dates would be will­ing to adopt them in their cam­paign man­i­festos and that the win­ner will im­ple­ment them for the long-term bet­ter­ment of the lives of thou­sands of Hong Kong cit­i­zens and vis­i­tors.

The first and most ob­vi­ous prob­lem area re­quir­ing bold new mea­sures is the dearth of de­cent but af­ford­able hous­ing. Sadly, too many of Hong Kong’s cit­i­zens are squeezed into ap­palling cage homes, be­cause that is all they can af­ford.”


A girl makes eye con­tact with a “po­lar bear” who has just come from per­form­ing at the IFC in Cen­tral.

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