Homing in on CE nitty gritty

Editorial | Mary Ma 29 Jul 2021

It's public knowledge that housing has always been a serious social issue in the SAR but probably nobody has been as successful as Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Xia Baolong in elevating the matter to such a high level as it is now.

Xia said in a recent speech that Hong Kong must bid farewell to the appalling reality of subdivided flats and cage homes.

Although the Beijing official stopped short of giving the SAR a timetable to accomplish the mission, there was clearly a message of urgency in the remarks that no one could have possibly missed.

In this respect, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor should have reacted to the demand more quickly, given that local real-estate developers were able to pick up the signal with undertakings to cooperate with the government to provide more homes.

It's no secret that housing is a major policy area that every CE candidate will have to face.

Former CE Leung Chun-ying - who spent a lot of time elaborating on what could be done to tap the potential of country park fringe areas to solve Hong Kong's housing shortage - was notably silent on the matter despite Xia's public remarks.

Conversely, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po adopted a higher profile this time around, making lengthy comments on what policymakers may do to overcome the housing problems facing Hongkongers.

Could Chan's sudden shift to a higher profile on the question of land and housing raise the eyebrows of others as both issues have always been the key policy subjects of which the CE has been proudly in charge?

Xia said he wanted to see a housing policy that is visionary. Chan's blueprint was visionary, offering to eliminate all subdivided flats by 2049 at the latest, in addition to creating land by reclamation.

But nobody, including the financial secretary himself, can possibly deny how far away 2049 is. And it would be difficult to imagine how decision makers in Beijing may think about advancing forward the 2049 pledge.

Nonetheless, Chan managed to give his housing plan a public relations spin with a visit to some subdivided flat tenants in Sham Shui Po.

In contrast, Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee opted for an unconventional line, raising the possibility of redeveloping the container terminals in Kwai Chung - a proposal first mentioned by some civil engineers, but not taken seriously by the current administration.

The public could be forgiven for associating the increased activities to the CE election.

Nevertheless, a problem with Chan's plan is the time he needs to wind up all subdivided flats. It just seems too far fetched.

An earlier timeline would have served him better, even though Beijing did not specify a timeframe.

There's no question that everyone involved in the political game knows they must come up with a plan to tackle the SAR's housing woes. The difference is how they plan to achieve it.

The CE election is not due until next year, but probable candidates are starting to warm up for the race.



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