Short on words, long on hope ...

Editorial | 12 Oct 2017

There is a saying that if money can fix or solve a problem, then it really isn't a problem.

And Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is obviously embarking on a spending spree to rekindle hope among the populace.

Will she succeed? She'd better do.

Lam didn't give an estimate as to how much all her policy initiatives will cost, leaving the tedious calculation to reporters. A crude count of the items contained in the full text of her 49,000-word policy address suggests the total could be a staggering HK$70 billion.

That's hardly chump change, but if people's hopes can be rekindled and confidence restored, it would be money well spent.

Lam's speech in the legislature was shorter than that of all her predecessors. The break with tradition was welcome and should be encouraged, since action always speaks louder than words. It would mean little for her to deliver a two-hour speech, rich in rhetoric but hollow in content, if it can't mend the social rifts confronting us.

On this, Executive Council member Bernard Chan Chanwut deserved some credit for advising his boss to keep to a length that wouldn't cause the listeners to doze off.

Lam's speech was bereft of references to political reform. Following the setback in the last attempt to introduce universal suffrage for electing the chief executive, it was wise not to bring up the issue again so soon. After she's made enough progress in mending social rifts would be time to revisit the matter. For the time being, it was correct to focus on the more practical issues.

Unity is a touchy issue, and Lam is clearly trying to deal with it at different levels. She's in a better position than her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, in addressing this in view of her personal character. But she must also realize she alone can't achieve harmony in society without the cooperation of others.

A symbolic step being taken is the disbanding of the Central Policy Unit that - as many people viewed it - was full of ultra-leftist inclination during the past administration. It's being replaced by the Policy Innovation and Co- ordination Unit of less political color.

The symbolism of the dissolution is open to interpretation.

As anticipated, housing formed a major part of Lam's 42-minute speech. Programs such as the Green Form Subsidized Home Ownership Scheme, White Form Buyers Scheme, and Starter Homes initiative have been reported before. Perhaps fearing criticisms of government-business "collusion," Starter Homes was given a relatively low profile launch, with a pilot project to provide 1,000 units on government land in Kwun Tong.

The financial market had expected a bolder step. Disappointed, property stocks that surged most on the eve of the speech reversed themselves. Shares of Henderson Land Development, which holds huge farmland reserves, dropped nearly 5 percent.

It's clear that Lam is treading carefully to steer clear of any murky water. However, in the area of housing, the government has no choice but to work with the private sector to tap the latter's land reserves to meet housing needs.

As I've said before, there's always a distinct line separating collaboration from collusion. Lam should feel confident in tapping private resources - as long as there's a high level of transparency.

The SAR's first female chief executive opened her speech on a patriotic note out of necessity for political correctness. She was right to stress the need for "One Country, Two Systems" because - without "two systems" - there would be no judicial independence or the various freedoms people enjoy today.

I found Lam's policy address reassuring.

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