The Chief Executive, Mr Donald Tsang, has on October 12 tackled some of the city’s most pressing concerns in his final Policy Address of the Third Term Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. Providing affordable housing, helping the elderly, enhancing competitiveness and improving living standards were among the main issues addressed in his annual policy blueprint entitled “From Strength to Strength”.
To assist low-income families to buy a home, Mr Tsang announced a new policy for the resumption of the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS). The new scheme will target families with a monthly household income of under $30,000 and will be based on people’s ability to pay. Under the scheme, flats with a saleable floor area of 400 to 500 square feet will be priced in a range of about $1.5 million and $2 million. The Government plans to provide more than 17 000 HOS flats over four years from 2016-17 onwards, with a production rate of between 2 500 to 6 500 flats a year. The first batch of flats is expected to be ready for pre-sale in 2014 or 2015.
Mr Tsang also announced enhancements to the My Home Purchase Plan (MHPP), which was announced last year to provide “no frills” small and medium flats. To ensure an adequate supply of small and medium flats, the Chief Executive said the Government would continue to sell sites with flat size restrictions and develop new land. On Hong Kong’s ageing population, Mr Tsang said the Government would continue to promote ageing at home, while ensuring adequate elderly care facilities and services.
He proposed introducing a supplement for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients aged 60 or above who occupy non-subsidised residential care places to ease their financial burden. He also proposed a concessionary public transport fare of $2 for the elderly and disabled people, and a concession ticket scheme to encourage more elderly people to swim regularly.
The Government is also investigating ways to facilitate elderly Hong Kong residents who choose to settle in the Mainland. This includes a proposed new “Guangdong Scheme” which will allow residents living in Guangdong to receive the Old Age Allowance (OAA) without returning to Hong Kong.
Mr Tsang also said the Government was exploring ways to further raise living standards including the feasibility of introducing standard working hours and providing paid paternity leave to promote family-friendly working practices.
To improve air quality, the Chief Executive said the Government would introduce additional requirements and incentives for bus companies to switch to zero emission buses or the most environment-friendly buses when replacing old diesel vehicles. “I propose to earmark $180 million for franchised bus companies to purchase 36 electric buses for trial runs on a number of routes to assess their performance in different conditions,” Mr Tsang said.
On economic development, Mr Tsang said it was important to maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness by seizing opportunities both in the Mainland and globally. “In the National 12th Five-Year Plan, our country has expressed her support for Hong Kong to reinforce and enhance our status as an international centre for financial services, trade and shipping, and to develop industries where we enjoy competitive advantages,” Mr Tsang said.
He added that Hong Kong would strengthen investment co-operation with emerging markets overseas, boost co-operation with Taiwan, Fujian and Chongqing and further support the development of the six industries where Hong Kong enjoys a competitive advantage. The Chief Executive proposed setting up a dedicated fund of $1 billion to support Hong Kong enterprises to promote domestic sales in the Mainland and encourage them to develop high value-added products and build brands by leveraging Hong Kong’s strengths in design. To further boost Hong Kong’s competitiveness, Mr Tsang proposed injecting $5 billion into the Research Endowment Fund. Of this, $3 billion will fund self-financing tertiary institutions on a competitive basis to enhance academic and research development. The investment income of the remaining $2 billion will provide stable research funding for UGC-funded institutions. “In the face of intense global competition, increased investment in research and development is crucial to enhancing our competitiveness,” Mr Tsang said.
Another initiative in the Policy Address is to establish an International Cuisine College under the Vocational Training Council. The college will provide training facilities and progression pathways for people aspiring to become professional chefs proficient in international cuisines. It will also help promote the development of related sectors, such as tourism, catering, retail and wine trading. Mr Tsang urged Hong Kong people to believe in their own ability to take the city’s economic and social development to the next level. “Our forbears from diverse origins came to this tiny island simply to earn a living and build their homes,” Mr Tsang said. “They worked hard through the years and, without realizing it, created a unique city with its own character. “We cherish freedom, respect the rule of law, and treasure equality, justice, integrity, pluralism and inclusiveness. “These are the core values of Hong Kong.”