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