Overdue revamp must change culture

Editorial | Mary Ma 16 Sep 2021

A revamp of the government structure is long overdue.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made it clear she was going to reorganize the government to separate the Transport and Housing Bureau into two and create a new bureau dedicated to making cultural policies - but those are the kind of things that should have been done earlier.

For one, it's common knowledge that housing and transport are two large policy areas, with each warranting a dedicated team if they are to be effectively formulated and executed.

When Wen Jiabao was premier, he repeatedly reminded Hong Kong of some deep-seated conflicts in society.

And recently, the Beijing leadership was frank in blaming the SAR's housing problems for deep-seated social conflicts.

A long-standing shortage of housing supply has led to record-breaking property prices in the private sector and an eternal wait for public housing.

It is crystal clear that the Transport and Housing Bureau has to be rationalized to achieve greater efficiency, otherwise the housing crisis will continue to impact everyone in every possible way.

But simple surgery to divide the bureau into two won't be enough to solve the housing shortage - land supply must be increased at the same time.

At present, land policy comes under the Development Bureau. Unless this is also included in the government structure review, the reorganization that Lam has undertaken to start is doomed to be half-cooked.

Although Lam insists the upcoming government reorganization has nothing to do with whether or not she is going to run for reelection to remain in office, the high profile with which she has been drawing everybody's attention to the review is open to interpretation.

Meanwhile, her comment that a new bureau will be created to take charge of cultural policies is great.

It will be even greater if the appointee to head the new bureau is someone who understands that a successful cultural industry needs a free environment in order to nurture.

The recent Korean Wave may be phenomenal but its emergence was never incidental. The Korea Creative Content Agency set up by the South Korean government offers support to the industry without interfering in their productions.

Culture is more than just a soft power of a mature economy.

For example, while the Korean Wave refers to a phenomenal growth of the cultural influence beyond its borders, the Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange estimated that the wave contributed about US$9.5 billion (HK$74.1 billion) to the economy before the Covid pandemic.

Singapore and a number of other governments have also set up departments to head cultural services.

The Home Affairs Bureau in Hong Kong is supposed to be responsible for cultural policies but, in effect, these are spread among departments.

For instance, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department deals with recreation and sports, while the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau oversees trade promotion, including the popular book fair event.

For the cultural industry to thrive, it must encompass everything, including music, movies, games and even cuisine.

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