John Lee Ka-chiu, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, delivers his maiden Policy Address at the Legislative Council in the city on Oct 19, 2022. (CALVIN NG / CHINA DAILY)
HONG KONG – Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu's maiden policy address laid out a strategic blueprint for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to come out of the epidemic fog with his administration clearly focused on striking a balance between "epidemic risks and economic needs".
Lee began his Policy Address at 11 am on Wednesday at the Legislative Council highlighting the strong support of the motherland that the HKSAR enjoys and the financial hub's strategic competitiveness. He said the Pearl of the Orient will shine brighter than ever with enhanced prosperity and stability.
A former top security official, Lee underscored the need for the rule of law and the role of the national security legislation in safeguarding the SAR's strengths, echoing Chinese President Xi Jinping's July 1 speech wherein he had said Hong Kong had emerged from chaos and should progress toward greater stability and prosperity in the next five years.
The CE's priorities were clearly outlined when he said, "Currently, the biggest aspiration of Hong Kong citizens is to have more decent housing, improved care for the elderly, better prospects for the youth in their education and achievements, and more development opportunities in society."
Civil service overhaul
Lee said the SAR must honor the foundation of "one country" while upholding "two systems" in resolutely preserving the constitutional system.
To this end, a steering committee to promote the Constitution and the Basic Law as well as a committee on Rule of Law Education will be launched.
In a clear indication that the administrative apparatus would be scrutinized closely so as to improve governance, the Hong Kong leader stressed the need to update the Civil Service Code and adopt a reward and punishment approach towards assessing the performance of civil servants.
About 110 key performance indicators (KPIs) for monitoring the progress and effectiveness of specified tasks and making timely improvements will be set, he said.
Chief Executive John Lee enters the Legislative Council to deliver his first Policy Address on Oct 19, 2022. (CALVIN NG / CHINA DAILY)
Development, growth and attracting talent
The CE announced a new Hong Kong Investment Corporation Limited consolidating the Hong Kong Growth Portfolio, the GBA Investment Fund and the Strategic Tech Fund.
Also, an Office for Attracting Strategic Enterprises as well as Talents Service Unit will be set up to attract mainland and overseas enterprises, he said.
In a multi-pronged approach to stem brain drain and encourage overseas talent to settle in the city, a program named Top Talent Pass Scheme will be launched, existing talent admission schemes will be enhanced, employment visas will be extended to a maximum of three years, and non-local graduates will be allowed to remain in the city for two years instead of one.
Our priority is to reinforce our position as an international financial center, and promote the development of two emerging industries, namely I&T and arts and culture.
John Lee, Chief Executive, HKSAR
Also, the annual quota of 4,000 under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS) will be suspended for two years and eligible incoming talents, upon becoming permanent residents, will be allowed to apply for a refund of the extra stamp duty paid for purchasing residential property in Hong Kong.
Lee said the government will establish the Steering Group on Integration into National Development, which will be chaired by the chief executive with the chief secretary, the financial secretary and the justice secretary serving as his deputies.
Pointing out how national strategies including the 14th Five-Year Plan, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development plan and the Belt and Road Initiative had boosted the growth of Hong Kong, Lee said: "Our priority is to reinforce our position as an international financial center, and promote the development of two emerging industries, namely I&T and arts and culture.”
He said HK$10 billion will be earmarked to launch the "Research, Academic and Industry Sectors One-plus Scheme" (RAISe+ Scheme) next year.
The CE announced that the government's current subsidies for SMEs on branding, upgrading and domestic sales will go up from HK$6 million to HK$7 million. For funds subsidizing overseas promotions, the ceiling will be raised to HK$1 million from the original HK$800,000.
He also pledged another HK$1.4 billion will be injected into the exhibition sector.
The government aims to offer one-stop digital services by fully adopting "iAM Smart" within three years, opening up data and further expanding the 5G network by amending legislation next year, said the CE.
Housing and land development
Acknowledging that breakthroughs in housing supply and solutions to address the long-term problem of housing shortage was needed, Lee, in a significant policy initiative, announced to set a minimum size for newly-built flats.
New Light Public Housing with about 30,000 units will be built and overall public housing production will be increased substantially by about 50 percent in the coming five years
The saleable area of all subsidized sale flats completed from 2026-27 onward will be no less than 26 square meters in general, and the internal floor area of all newly-built Public Rental Housing units, except for single-person and two-person units, will be no less than the equivalent threshold level, he said.
Also, new Light Public Housing with about 30,000 units will be built and overall public housing production will be increased substantially by about 50 percent in the coming five years.
In a key proposal, the government envisages lowering the compulsory sale application thresholds for private buildings aged between 50 and 70 years from 80 percent to 70 percent of ownership, and further to 60 percent for those aged 70 or above.
For industrial buildings in non-industrial zones, the threshold will be lowered to 70 percent of ownership for those aged 30 years or above.
A new Pilot Scheme on Private Developer Participation in Subsidized Housing Development will be launched.
In his address, the CE said that upon completion, the Northern Metropolis will emerge as a “new international I&T city”, integrating quality lifestyles, new economies, as well as culture and leisure.
The CE proposed to launch a three-year Chronic Disease Co-Care Pilot Scheme next year, entailing referral for people screened to be at high risk of hypertension or diabetes mellitus to the private sector with the government subsidizing about half of the examination and treatment fees.
The government aims to reduce the waiting time of stable new case bookings for medicine by 20 percent in 2023-24, he said.
As part of the First Ten-year Hospital Development Plan (HDP), the government aims to add about 4,600 beds and about 80 operating theatres in the next five years.
It is looking at a blueprint for the development of Chinese medicine taking forward the provision of an additional 200,000 quotas of Chinese medicine out-patient service.
Quality of life, poverty alleviation and inclusivity
The CE said District Services and Community Care Teams – as promised in his election manifesto – will strive to include young people and ethnic minorities to take part in community building.
As part of its efforts to enhance aged care, the government will regularize the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly in the third quarter of 2023. The number of beneficiaries will increase by 50 percent in phases.
It will set up 16 new neighborhood elderly centers in the next five years. From October 2023, the government will regularize the allowance for carers of elderly persons and persons with disabilities under the Community Care Fund and raise the amount of subsidy, Lee said.
The government will also recruit more ethnic minorities for appointment as employment assistants and general assistants in the Labour Department.
Describing child abuse cases as “heart-breaking”, the Hong Kong leader said the government will set up a mandatory reporting mechanism by introducing a bill to the LegCo in the first half of 2023.
On minimum wage, the CE said he would invite the relevant committee to look into whether the two-yearly review mechanism could be updated.
Besides, the chief secretary has been tasked with restructuring the Commission on Poverty to study and identify more target groups for help, he added.
Education and youth development
Noting that "Hong Kong will prosper only when its young people thrive", Lee said STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) education will be promoted across primary and secondary schools.
The aim is to have at least 75 percent of publicly-funded schools implementing coding education at the upper primary level and introducing artificial intelligence in the junior secondary curriculum by the 2024/25 school year.
This photo shows the Legislative Council Chamber as Chief Executive John Lee delivers his Policy Address, Oct 19, 2022. (ANDY CHONG / CHINA DAILY)
In another key policy initiative, the government will require new teachers in public schools to pass Basic Law Test starting from the current academic year. The requirement will be extended to cover all Direct Subsidy Scheme schools and kindergartens joining the Kindergarten Education Scheme from the next school year, covering the Basic Law and the National Security Law.
Guidelines will also be established to monitor professional conduct and behavior of teachers, said Lee.
The first edition of the Youth Development Blueprint will be readied within this year to outline the government's principles, objectives and actions in pursuing youth development.
This apart, in order to meet the housing needs of young people, the government will provide more land for the Starter Homes projects in the next financial year and explore ways to expand the Youth Hostel Scheme.
Transportation, climate, culture and wellness
Announcing that the current transport subsidy will remain in place for another six months till April next year, Lee vowed to release a transport strategy blueprint in 2025 for a highly efficient transport system.
The government will take forward six new railway and highway projects – Northern Metropolis Highway, Sha Tin Bypass, TKO-Yau Tong Tunne, Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Rail Link, Central Rail Link and TKO Line Southern Extension.
The CE said the government would cease new registration of fuel-propelled and hybrid private cars in 2035 or earlier, stressing that the aim was to reduce total carbon emissions by 50 percent before 2035 and achieve the carbon neutrality goal before 2050.
Lee said he had decided to develop a “Round-the-Island Trail” of about 60km on Hong Kong Island.
Also, the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau will map out a 10-year plan to build more than 30 recreation facilities in phases.
The SAR government would allocate HK$600 million for a three-year “Cultural and Heritage Sites Local Tour Incentive Scheme” and set up a Mega Arts and Cultural Events Fund to promote the staging of more international shows in Hong Kong, he added.
Core strengths and competitiveness
The government will seek to pass an amendment bill for the Copyright Ordinance next year, Lee said, pointing out that his government's aim to develop Hong Kong into a regional intellectual property (IP) trading center and consolidate the city’s status as a center for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region.
We are making our best efforts to discuss with the mainland to strive for resuming normal cross-boundary travel in a gradual and orderly manner, without posing additional epidemic risks to the mainland.
John Lee, Chief Executive, HKSAR
Also, the government will work with Hong Kong International Airport and the Airport Authority to "fully realize the airport city vision". The Sky Pier Terminal will be commissioned in 2023 for direct transfer facilities and streamlining immigration formalities.
The strategy of smart ports will be enhanced to boost Hong Kong's competitiveness as an international shipping and logistics center, said the CE.
Towards the conclusion of his inaugural Policy Address, Lee iterated the need to tell good Hong Kong stories and that there were plenty to tell.
Emphasizing the need to combat the epidemic together, he pointed out that the government had hinged its reponse on the principle of not to "lie flat" and to strike a balance between epidemic risks and economic needs.
"Resuming connections with the mainland and the overseas is equally important for Hong Kong and must be pursued in tandem. We are making our best efforts to discuss with the mainland to strive for resuming normal cross-boundary travel in a gradual and orderly manner, without posing additional epidemic risks to the mainland."
He said Hong Kong's most unique advantage was that it enjoyed strong support of the motherland while being closely connected to the world under the "one country, two systems" principle and "guided by the important speech delivered by President Xi on 1 July as the governance blueprint for the current-term government, it is our hope to better serve our people and better develop Hong Kong."
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