Ho Lok-sang

Notes that each SAR ad­min­is­tra­tion has made great strides in es­tab­lish­ing a more car­ing com­mu­nity over 20 years with Le­ung’s in front

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HKSAR -

Hong Kong has gone a long way, and amid hic­cups and some­times great dif­fi­cul­ties, it is firmly on the way to build­ing it­self up as a car­ing so­ci­ety. The spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly un­der the pre­vi­ous chief ex­ec­u­tives, has firmly es­tab­lished its rep­u­ta­tion as a car­ing gov­ern­ment. Of course some peo­ple will dis­agree. They may point to med­i­cal in­ci­dents that should not have hap­pened, long queues for pub­lic hous­ing and waits for a place in el­derly homes, the Lehman Broth­ers mini­bond in­ci­dent, etc. But if we care to take a look at the big pic­ture all SAR ad­min­is­tra­tions from Tung Chee­hwa to Le­ung Chun-ying made big strides in turn­ing Hong Kong into a car­ing so­ci­ety.

Tung fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion as the key to up­ward mo­bil­ity, and vastly ex­panded op­por­tu­ni­ties for high school grad­u­ates in ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, and he was the one who pro­posed vastly ex­pand­ing the hous­ing sup­ply to cool down the Hong Kong prop­erty mar­ket. Even after step­ping down, he formed the Our Hong Kong Foun­da­tion and built a strong team to study how Hong Kong can and should ex­pand its land sup­ply, and how Hong Kong’s econ­omy can be jump­started through in­no­va­tion. I re­mem­ber at­tend­ing a talk by Alibaba founder Jack Ma that Tung’s foun­da­tion or­ga­nized and which at­tracted a full house au­di­ence com­pris­ing mostly young peo­ple. Ma later of­fered op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­tern­ships and launched the Alibaba En­trepreneurs Fund in Novem­ber 2015, worth $1 bil­lion.

Don­ald Tsang Yam-kuen, the sec­ond chief ex­ec­u­tive, is cred­ited with tam­ing the Asian Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis by join­ing hands with the Hong Kong Mon­e­tary Au­thor­ity in fight­ing the “dou­ble play” strat­egy of mar­ket ma­nip­u­la­tors in 1998 — while he was fi­nan­cial sec­re­tary — and with fight­ing the Global Fi­nan­cial Tsunami in 2008, each time with great suc­cess. It is a feat that Hong Kong was hardly scarred by the global fi­nan­cial tsunami, and that the econ­omy bounced back so fast. Ob­vi­ously without a strong econ­omy, the SAR gov­ern­ment would not have the re­sources to ad­dress prob­lems such as an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and car­ing for the sick and the un­der­priv­i­leged. Tsang also in­tro­duced the Pub­lic Trans­port Fare Con­ces­sion Scheme for the El­derly and El­i­gi­ble Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties so peo­ple aged 65 or above, and el­i­gi­ble per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, could travel on MTR, fran­chised buses and fer­ries any time at a con­ces­sion­ary $2 fare. The Work In­cen­tive Trans­port Sub­sidy Scheme, an­other ini­tia­tive of Tsang’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, more­over, of­fered a monthly stipend of HK$600 to qual­i­fied em­ploy­ees who met work­ing hour, as­set and in­come re­quire­ments. The Com­mu­nity Care Fund was formed also dur­ing Tsang’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to ex­tend help to those who face dif­fi­cul­ties, es­pe­cially those who fall out­side the so­cial safety net or oth­er­wise have spe­cial cir­cum­stances that are not cov­ered by the net.

The out­go­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive stands out among the three as the most harshly crit­i­cized but also was the one who did the most to deal with the pri­mary con­cerns of Hong Kong peo­ple. Plain to the eyes of any fair ob­server, he made a gen­uine ef­fort to boost land sup­ply and hous­ing sup­ply. Im­me­di­ately after he took of­fice he al­most com­pletely halted the in­flux of main­land women not mar­ried to a Hong Kong man to give birth in Hong Kong. He al­lo­cated HK$1 bil­lion a year to im­prove ac­cess to fa­cil­i­ties for tens of thou­sands of el­derly and dis­abled peo­ple. Soon after tak­ing up the CE post in 2012, Le­ung raised the Old Age Liv­ing Al­lowance for qual­i­fied el­derly by $1,240 to HK$2,200, which was pro­gres­sively raised all the way to $3,435 this year. Those who ben­e­fit are sub­ject to an as­set test but the num­ber of ben­e­fi­cia­ries was es­ti­mated at half a mil­lion. Le­ung, also for the first time, last year in­tro­duced a wage sub­sidy scheme called the Low-in­come Work­ing Fam­ily Al­lowance. In his 2014 Pol­icy Ad­dress he ex­plained that there were two con­sid­er­a­tions be­hind this ini­tia­tive: “First, de­spite the

Let us hope the new ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will con­tinue this tra­di­tion of a car­ing gov­ern­ment, and will do an even bet­ter job.

pro­tec­tion of­fered by the statu­tory min­i­mum wage, many grass­roots work­ers, as the sole bread­win­ners of fam­i­lies, still bear a heavy fi­nan­cial bur­den. Pro­vid­ing them with suitable as­sis­tance and en­cour­ag­ing them to re­main em­ployed will help keep them from fall­ing into the CSSA safety net. Sec­ond, spe­cial at­ten­tion must be paid to the chil­dren and youths of th­ese fam­i­lies. Of­fer­ing them ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port pro­motes up­ward mo­bil­ity and breaks the vi­cious cy­cle of in­ter­gen­er­a­tional poverty.”

All this shows that the SAR gov­ern­ment has gone a long way to serve the grass­roots peo­ple in Hong Kong. With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight we may say it could have done bet­ter, but there can be no dis­pute the gov­ern­ment has the wel­fare of the weak­est at heart. In­deed, re­cur­rent gov­ern­ment spend­ing on so­cial wel­fare in 2016-17 soared to HK$66.2 bil­lion, 55 per­cent up from four years ago, as Le­ung noted in his last pol­icy ad­dress. In 2017-18, so­cial wel­fare spend­ing is es­ti­mated to ac­count for 19.8 per­cent of all pub­lic spend­ing. Let us hope the new ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will con­tinue this tra­di­tion of a car­ing gov­ern­ment, and will do an even bet­ter job.

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