Ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing plan good start for new govt Ray­mond So

Wel­comes the pos­i­tive ef­fects of mea­sures but warns against be­lief that this ad­di­tional spend­ing means open sea­son on govern­ment’s fis­cal re­serves

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

This week marks the new ad­min­is­tra­tion’s as­sump­tion of of­fice. The new chief ex­ec­u­tive has achieved a good start. She has made it clear that pa­pers on fu­ture pol­icy for­mu­la­tion will have more time to be dis­cussed at the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil, and there can be changes upon dis­cus­sion at the ExCo, prior to the launch. Also, she sug­gested there would be more in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the CE and Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil. These all show signs of im­prov­ing the work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches of govern­ment. Also, the likely ap­proval of the pro­posed HK$5 bil­lion ad­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing is a strate­gic move.

Strate­gi­cally, the new ad­min­is­tra­tion cer­tainly wants a good start for its op­er­a­tion. If the op­po­si­tion camp keeps on fil­i­bus­ter­ing against ev­ery govern­ment ini­tia­tive, there would be a con­tin­u­a­tion of the dead­lock in Hong Kong’s devel­op­ment. To give the ad­min­is­tra­tion and op­po­si­tion a chance to break the po­lit­i­cal ice, and pro­vide the op­po­si­tion a grace­ful way to back out of the dead­lock, there is a need for an ini­tia­tive to be sup­ported by both ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. The HK$5 bil­lion ad­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing serves this pur­pose per­fectly well. The pro­posed scheme will ben­e­fit many stake­hold­ers of the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. Hence, the op­po­si­tion camp will find it dif­fi­cult not to sup­port it. While not all sec­tors will ben­e­fit from the scheme, it still com­mands the sup­port of the ma­jor­ity of so­ci­ety. This gives the op­po­si­tion camp a much­needed rea­son to show their sup­port too. To the ad­min­is­tra­tion, this will also show a good ges­ture. At the very least, there will be a hon­ey­moon pe­riod for the new ad­min­is­tra­tion The author is dean of the School of Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion at Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity. with the op­po­si­tion. For Hong Kong as a whole, this is in­deed an op­por­tu­nity to set aside dis­agree­ments and move for­ward. This might be just a lit­tle step to­ward achiev­ing so­cial har­mony but the im­pli­ca­tion is still very pos­i­tive. This also sug­gests more govern­ment in­ter­ac­tion with dif­fer­ent sec­tors will be needed in fu­ture if it is to en­gage with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers with di­verse views. In short, the pro­posal of ap­pro­pri­at­ing HK$5 bil­lion ad­di­tional bud­get for ed­u­ca­tion is a strate­gic start.

Nev­er­the­less, it is too early to make any con­clu­sion on po­ten­tial con­se­quences of the pro­posal. The HK$5 bil­lion ex­tra bud­get for ed­u­ca­tion might set a prece­dent for dif­fer­ent sec­tors to take a bite of the gov­ern- ment’s fis­cal re­serves. We all un­der­stand Hong Kong faces many chal­lenges. In the old days, the govern­ment adopted a pru­dent fis­cal pol­icy; pub­lic fis­cal ex­pen­di­ture was de­ter­mined by pro­jected fis­cal rev­enue. This con­ser­va­tive ap­proach has made Hong Kong fi­nan­cially sound to cope with var­i­ous fi­nan­cial crises. Yet this con­ser­va­tive ap­proach has pre­vented Hong Kong from mak­ing long-term devel­op­ment plan­ning. The launch of the HK$5 bil­lion ex­tra fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion is likely to raise peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions on the use of the govern­ment’s huge fis­cal re­serves. For ex­am­ple, there has long been dis­cus­sion of uni­ver­sal re­tire­ment pro­tec­tion in the com­mu­nity and the govern­ment has been re­luc­tant to act on such ideas as they are likely to cre­ate huge fi­nan­cial bur­dens. It is easy to imag­ine the HK$5 bil­lion ex­tra bud­get for ed­u­ca­tion will stoke ex­pec­ta­tions for fur­ther govern­ment com­mit­ment to var­i­ous so­cial wel­fare ini­tia­tives. This is some­thing the new ad­min­is­tra­tion will need to han­dle with cau­tion for the sake of fis­cal sus­tain­abil­ity.

The launch of this HK$5 bil­lion ex­tra ed­u­ca­tion bud­get has at­tracted ac­tive en­gage­ment from dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers as well as var­i­ous in­ter­est groups with dif­fer­ent agen­das. How can the govern­ment win the needed sup­port for its ini­tia­tive? The key is how it en­gages with the stake­hold­ers. It is true that it is im­pos­si­ble to make ev­ery­body happy. The cru­cial task is to make sure that the ma­jor­ity of stake­hold­ers are com­fort­able with and welcome the ini­tia­tive. This is in­deed a valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence and les­son for the new ad­min­is­tra­tion to draw upon. Fol­low­ing this pat­tern, fu­ture pol­icy ini­tia­tives would have a bet­ter chance of win­ning sup­port and achiev­ing their ob­jec­tives.

For Hong Kong as a whole, this is in­deed an op­por­tu­nity to set aside dis­agree­ments and move for­ward. This might be just a lit­tle step to­ward achiev­ing so­cial har­mony but the im­pli­ca­tion is still very pos­i­tive.

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