China Daily Hong Kong reported the release of the document: “The CPC: Its Mission and Contributions”. A subtitle says, “Publication stresses Party seeks happiness for the people and progress for humanity.” As I have worked on the subject of happiness for years and was a joint editor for a volume, Happiness and Public Policy: Theory, Case Studies, and Implications, I applaud the Communist Party of China for identifying furthering the happiness for the people and progress for humanity as its mission. This is the natural thing to do for every government, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government included. The only difference is that the bigger the country, the greater should be its responsibility for “progress of humanity”. Thus, the United States and China must be the top bearers of this responsibility. For Hong Kong, the prime responsibility of the SAR government must be seeking the greatest happiness of Hong Kong people.
Although Hong Kong does face many deep-seated problems, it is also blessed with fantastic advantages and privileges. Now that the opposition lawmakers are all out of the Legislative Council, there can be no excuse if it does a lousy job. Hong Kong is the envy of the world in having a comfortable and huge fiscal reserve; it is the most international city in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which is the most vibrant economically and technologically among the most advanced regions in China; it is blessed with having some of the world’s top universities, a well-disciplined workforce, and the greatest concentration of financial, legal, accounting and banking professionals in the world. Under the “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong people enjoy privileges not found anywhere throughout China. We do not need to pay for national defense, nor do we have to pay any tax to the central government, nor are our youngsters required to do military service as Singaporean youngsters have to, for example.
To seek happiness for all Hong Kong people, the city’s policymakers need to be proactive. Several commentators on this page have already expressed the view that “positive non-interventionism” must change. Although “positive non-interventionism” is subject to different interpretations, and some say that it merely means the government must not intervene if the market can do a better job, most people who believe in positive non-interventionism assume that small government is a good government. Following this mindset, the SAR government did not interfere even though the liberal studies curriculum degenerated, under its watch, into a politically charged one, and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union into an anti-CPC organization. It also appears to feel comfortable with the neglect of keeping proper standards for our elderly homes and homes for the severely handicapped, the prevalence of illegal subdivided flats that are not properly structured and maintained, the inadequacy of public hospital manpower and infrastructure, the acute shortage of developable land for housing, business and community needs, and so on.
It is true that some of the difficulties that we face today are the price we must pay as we adhere to the standards and procedures that have been set up over the years in order to address community concerns about participation and empowerment. It has been pointed out by the Task Force on Land Supply that while land supply had increased by 6,000 hectares in the 10 years up to 2005, only 400 hectares was added in the following 10 years. In the 15 years up to 2000, over 3,000 hectares of land was produced through reclamation. In the following 15 years, only about 690 hectares of land was created this way. The Town Planning (Amendment) Bill passed in 2004 clearly did nothing to expedite the development process, to the detriment of Hong Kong’s public interest.
Ian Brownlee, a managing director of a planning consultancy, lamented in a South China Morning Post article in 2018 that all his representations to the Town Planning Board on behalf of landowners for housing development were rejected. “It is almost as if a development possibility not initiated by the government is automatically rejected.”
There is nothing mystical about this. As Hong Kong “democratizes”, those who see development as undermining their interests will object to development. The fact is that about half of Hong Kong’s households live in public rental (PRH) flats or HOS/privatized PRH flats. Another 30 percent or so are owner-occupiers, and that leaves only about 20 percent of households who may benefit from new housing development. The 80 percent have all kinds of reasons to object to new housing development: heavier traffic, heavier demand on community facilities, blocking their views, environmental concerns, or simply opposing developers’ further profiting from development.
While the land conversion process takes unduly long and is almost always aborted because of a clash of private interests, certain things that directly fall within the purview of the government continue to be neglected. A recent TV feature story told of a private flat owner having complained, without avail, to the Buildings Department about water sipping through the ceiling from upstairs, causing serious damage to the ceiling and even threatening the integrity of the structure. It turned out that the flat upstairs was illegally subdivided into many units.
The SAR government must be more proactive in defending the public interest. Indifference is dereliction of duty.
The author is director of Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS