[SCMP Column] The top 10 fixes needed if Hong Kong is to be Asia’s world city

July 02, 2015


As the firestorm begins to abate around the embarrassing and chaotic Legco constitutional vote, our Chief Executive has expressed a single forlorn plea: let us please now focus on real practical problems in the real community.

This might be a vain hope: too many legislators – shame on them – seem interested to focus on nothing except electoral “architecture”. It is to their eternal shame that they have so neglected the very real challenges that face Hong Kong people, like improved housing, better health care, improved care for the elderly, improved education…

Perhaps with the intention of shifting our focus onto the many practical challenges facing the community, our Chief Executive last week produced his “Work Report” – a sort of review of what he has achieved, and aims to achieve. Sadly – with the exception of some reasonably encouraging numbers on house-building – the report was a rather flimsy affair.

It reminded me of Donald Tsang’s “Ten Megaprojects” list, and of Carrie Lam’s 2012 “New Era of Infrastructure Development” report – and of my own response at the time – a call for “Ten Projects for the People”.

It is self indulgent, but I want to revisit my 2010 list of “Ten Projects for the People”, to check whether the list still deserves priority – and to check whether CY Leung has devoted attention to any of my priority items:

1.Strengthen language tuition in schools to improve fluency in our three key languages: CY gets a fail grade here, despite the critical importance of multi-lingual staff in Asia’s “World City”. The failure of the government itself to produce all of its materials in all three languages is strong evidence of neglect here.

2.Significant funds for skills training: again a fail grade. the government still refuses to submit information to an important APEC skills database that aims to provide a region-wide map of severe and worsening skills shortages. How can we efficiently target our vocational training priorities if we don’t have the clearest possible picture of key skills shortages? Ad hoc training in response to complaints from the construction industry is hardly adequate.

3.A massive “gap year” programme for school and university-leavers to spend a year working on carefully vetted projects outside Hong Kong – no better way of vesting our young work force with maturity, and sophisticated international awareness. No uptake here, so Hong Kong kids remain as tied to their parents’ apron strings as ever.

4.Build a network of community health clinics to take pressure off our hospitals: this critical move to bring good medical services for chronic and routine medical care down into the local community is still being neglected.

5.Introduce comprehensive health care insurance: the government sneaks a B-minus here. It seems we might have a scheme in place by the end of 2016, with some good elements included – like it will exempt no one, cover prior illnesses, and cover chronic and catastrophic illness. But it will still be voluntary, not compulsory, meaning the sick and old will opt in, and the healthy and young will opt out, leaving the scheme with a diminished pool and too-heavy demands.

6.Introduce an electricity tax: the government still refuses to touch this option, which would both raise significant funds, and powerfully encourage electricity-saving. By making such a tax more punitive the more electricity you consume, it can easily concentrate on the rich and middle classes that consume the majority of our electricity.

7.Focus on affordable housing: this is the one area where CY Leung deserves a B-plus grade, with 42 separate initiatives currently emphasized in his Work Plan. It is such a pity that progress is so painfully slow. And it is disgraceful that developers are responding to the problem not by trying to make homes more affordable, but by offering tinier and tinier apartments.

8.Systematically replace old and dilapidated buildings. CY maybe has a B-minus here, though the challenge remains as daunting as ever.

9.Sheltered housing for the elderly: the waiting list for places is still 31,000-long, and over 5,700 elderly people died last year while they were still waiting for such housing. To this need, we must add programmes to make it easier for elderlies to stay comfortably at home for as long as possible.

10.Recognise the arts as a business, since the arts worldwide are an immense employer of young, creative and skilled people. No comment needed – except to glance over the harbour at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

I drew up this list in 2010 not because it is perfect or comprehensive, but to highlight the many important things that can and should be done in our community – and led by our Legislators, who have until now shamelessly ignored such keenly needed programmes in favour of a self-serving obsession with our constitutional architecture. CY Leung is right to call for Legislators now to focus on our community challenges. Let’s see how they respond.

 

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