Dream vision a long shot for Lantau

Editorial | Mary Ma 18 Nov 2020

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is due to deliver her policy address next week after more than a month's delay.

While her brainchild Lantau Tomorrow Vision is expected to progress further following the disappearance of the pro-democracy opposition camp in the legislature - no doubt to her delight - will she spare a paragraph or two to include the ambitious proposal by local and mainland investor Wang Sing to crowdfund hundreds of billions of dollars to help deliver the "vision" without requiring the government to spend a dollar in land reclamation?

That will be one of the interesting points to monitor next week.

Evidently, Wang's announcement was carefully timed as it came just a week before the policy address - and the public relations preparation for it was meticulous.

Similar to Evergrande's announcement of its Hengchi electric car brand, Wang's Lantau plan was preceded by major advertising spending to manage public expectations in advance.

What we're hearing here is a sweet story that may well appeal to the financial sector.

Wang's story sounds innovative - as much as the Tom concept he led during the millennium dotcom bubble.

It suggests that every Hongkonger subscribes to a warrant allowing them each to invest HK$10,000 for one share in a new fund management company yet to be set up.

Local and overseas sovereign and pension funds would make up the rest of the founding capital. Altogether, a total of HK$100 billion would be raised to leverage on bonds to finance the project, which could cost more than HK$1 trillion.

As the story goes, all the government has to do is provide policy support.

That's not a bad script as far as the text goes - and it wouldn't surprise me if the story continues to ring in the financial world.

But bear in mind that the proposal is subject to litmus tests, with the first one coming in a week's time.

There is no question that, in her policy address, Lam will again stress livelihood issues, including housing.

What is uncertain is whether she will mention Wang's proposal, like former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa did regarding billionaire Richard Li Tzar-kai's Cyberport project in his policy speech.

Back then, Tung's Cyberport announcement had not been preceded by leaks of any kind.

If there has been an understanding between Lam and Wang on his public-private partnership proposal to create new land off Lantau, would Wang have announced his plan to steal the thunder from Lam's address? That does not make sense.

On the contrary, the high profile with which Wang announced his Lantau vision ahead of the policy address could be readily read as an attempt to put pressure on the administration.

If that's the case, will it backfire on the proposal, which is basically an investment scheme?

The answer to this will be clear very soon.

Nonetheless, whatever way the new island will rise from beneath the water, it's doomed to be a long shot that will not cure the housing problem immediately.

There should be other alternatives to quickly increase housing supply.

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