Three major issues of the day for Hong Kong, apart from containing COVID-19, are (1) housing and land supply; (2) strengthening our education system; and (3) strengthening Hong Kong’s technological capability to meet the challenges of the day. I am pleased to see concrete initiatives in the latest Policy Address addressing these issues. I am however less sanguine about the half-hearted approach in relieving the burden of caregivers at home for severely handicapped people.
It is clear from Carrie Lam’s latest Policy Address that she is truly committed to dealing with Hong Kong’s chronic land shortage and housing problems. She has initiatives for short term, intermediate term, as well as longer term. She says that long-term housing supply options mainly rely on reclamation of the artificial islands at Kau Yi Chau, near-shore reclamation at Lung Kwu Tan and the re-planning of Tuen Mun West, involving about 1440 hectares of land in total. Let us recall that the annex to the Sino-British Joint Declaration had limited annual land supply to no more than 50 hectares unless permission is granted by the Sino-British Land Commission (which was dissolved on June 30 1997). Fifty hectares were of course too little, and the Commission did from time to time relax that ceiling. But 1440 hectares is equivalent to 28 years’ supply under that quota, and this is not empty talk but concrete plans with specific sites identified. For the medium term, Mrs Lam identified 330 hectares of land to build 316,000 public housing units, satisfying the target set for the 10-year Long Term Housing Strategy (2021-22 to 2030-31). For the short term, apart from the housing already in the pipeline, a dedicated funding of HK$8.3 billion would facilitate the provision of 15,000 transitional housing units by non-government organizations (NGOs) in the three years from 2020-21 to 2022-23. Again specific sites have already been identified for providing 13,200 units. There will also be a pilot scheme to subsidize NGOs to rent hotels or guesthouses for use as transitional housing. To expedite the development process, Mrs Lam will personally steer on housing and land supply to ensure all bureaux and departments will work together smoothly.
Our youths need to see hope and opportunities, and they need to build up their inner strength. They need to free themselves from ideological biases and start seeing where a bright future lies.
Education is another major issue of great concern for two reasons. First is that to stay competitive, our younger generations sorely need the skills that will allow them to face today’s challenges in the job market and to build a career. Second is that to stay vigorous and vibrant, they do need the mindset to build a strong sense of purpose and to be an asset instead of a liability to their community. Our youths need to see hope and opportunities, and they need to build up their inner strength. They need to free themselves from ideological biases and start seeing where a bright future lies. This is why there is a need to reform our liberal studies curriculum, enhance moral, civic and national education, and provide more accurate information about development on the Chinese mainland and particularly in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Mrs Lam proposes to enhance the training of teachers upon appointment, during service and before promotion. I would add that they should themselves learn to build up their own character so they can also serve as life coaches for their students.
Mrs Lam has proposed various initiatives to enhance education and to expand the visions of our younger generations. HK$2 billion under the Quality Education Fund has been earmarked for a three-year program to support e-learning and to help students from disadvantaged families to overcome learning barriers. Various initiatives are introduced to help our youngsters explore opportunities emerging on the mainland. These include the Funding Scheme for Youth Entrepreneurship in the Greater Bay Area. About 200 youth startups will receive subsidies from the government, with a budget of HK$100 million under the Youth Development Fund. A Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme is also set up to subsidize the hiring of up to 2000 university graduates in the mainland cities in the Greater Bay Area.
Related to education, too, is the proposed Global STEM Professorship Scheme. At a cost of HK$2 billion, it will attract outstanding R&D talent from around the world to boost our technological prowess. If the right people are recruited, they will inspire our young scholars in universities to work at the forefront of technological development. I am also excited about a proposal to allow the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation to lease and manage certain areas of the Innovation and Technology Zone in Futian, Shenzhen. I very much hope the proposal will go ahead. It will surely deepen the collaboration between Hong Kong’s R&D personnel to work with those in Shenzhen and boost the morale of Hongkongers. Together with the “GoGBA” platform proposed by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council to exploit opportunities on the mainland, this will allow our younger generations to better see opportunities just north of our boundary.
Finally, I find the promise of “additional residential respite places through the Bought Place Scheme for Private Residential Care Homes for Persons with Disabilities” just not enough. These private facilities are typically underfunded and poorly run. The government needs to do better than this for the most vulnerable group in Hong Kong, which had already been hit by multiple tragedies.