First things first as Lam goes flat out

Editorial | Mary Ma 29 Jun 2018

Sunday isn't just the 21st anniversary of the handover, for July 1 also marks the completion of one full year's service for the SAR's first woman chief executive.

So what has our lai ma or the "tough fighter" Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor achieved in the year?

Well, a lot has happened in the past 12 months. Unfortunately, most of the events were unpleasant and mainly affected families - the latest being a family feud that cost the lives of an elderly sister and brother, with two other siblings still in hospital, after they were allegedly shot by their niece over a HK$10 million apartment.

This certainly wasn't Lam's handiwork, and it would be grossly unfair to pin any blame on her. However, by coincidence, this tragedy centered on property, specifically a flat in Nan Fung Sun Chuen purchased 40 years ago for HK$200,000 and has since billowed sky-high in value - high enough to kill over.

Housing is now Hong Kong's biggest problem, Lam has admitted. But despite the growing challenges confronting her administration, she says she won't shy away from meeting them.

So, without waiting for the completion of the Task Force on Land Supply's consultation, she will today announce a package of new policy proposals to combat housing unaffordability.

A vacancy tax as high as 200 percent of the rateable value will be imposed on completed but unsold flats - estimated to be in the region of 9,000 units. This move might well have little effect on the property market, but at least it can serve as a rap on the knuckles of those developers who have the audacity to hang onto - ie, hoard - their new and vacant flats.

Lam will also make subsidized housing cheaper by delinking it from the market price to the tune of 50 percent instead of the current 70 percent. But that's bound to arouse a lot of grumbling unless there's some kind of restrictions to just how low this should be.

The income limit should be lower than the existing level, otherwise there would be more families with higher incomes joining the lines for a limited number of these subsidized flats.

But instead of lowering the income limit, it would be better for Lam to build more subsidized flats to absorb demand from the private market.

A third item in her package is to take back prime sites the government reserved for bids by developers in order to build public housing on these sites.

Don't be fooled by Lam because she knows her latest cooling measures will not - definitely not - hold back the surging property market, which has already hit a fresh record. Not even the threat of a Sino-US trade war can halt the surge.

So why is Lam implementing all these measures? And why push them out on the eve of July 1?

To answer the questions: surely the date symbolizes Lam's report card for her first year. And what better time to rush it out than before July 1, the very anniversary of her taking office last year?

It also serves to shut her critics up, like former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who has been taking swipes at Lam for allegedly failing to uphold our core values.

But even with critics, Lam should be bold enough - like her nickname of Tough Fighter - to build affordable homes for Hongkongers, instead of wasting time on consultations like what the task force is currently undertaking.

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