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Monday, May 16, 2022, 01:08
Lee's proposals address city's urgent concerns
By Junius Ho and Kacee Ting
Monday, May 16, 2022, 01:08 By Junius Ho and Kacee Ting

We would like to reflect upon chief executive-elect John Lee Ka-chiu’s election manifesto with two questions: Can implementation of the policies stipulated in the manifesto help Lee gain “output legitimacy” by meeting expectations for good governance and making serious attempts to solve some of the deep-seated socioeconomic problems of Hong Kong? Can implementation of the proposed competition-boosting measures help Hong Kong reemerge as an economic powerhouse in Asia? Our short answers to these two questions are yes, Lee can.

Critics argue that the vague manifesto makes it hard to evaluate Lee’s performance in office. Some even argue that his manifesto has been headed in the wrong direction by ignoring the demand for universal suffrage, the call for political reconciliation, and the urgent need to introduce green policies. Although the broad policies stipulated in the manifesto are not music to the ears of critics, they are the basis from which Lee will be judged and held accountable over the next five years.

In his manifesto, Lee has placed an emphasis on four areas that provide useful threads running through the main policies of the new administration. These four areas are: (a) strengthening governance capability; (b) tackling pressing livelihood issues, streamlining procedures and providing more housing and better living; (c) enhancing the city’s overall competitiveness and pursuing sustainable development; and (d) building a caring, inclusive society and enhancing upward social mobility for youths.

First of all, Lee deserves great credit for drawing the public eye closer to the urgent need to strengthen governance capability. In recent years, the civil service has been subject to increasing criticisms. It is criticized as too bureaucratic and unprepared to meet the fast-changing needs of society, allegedly due in part to inadequate motivational factors in the performance management system. In spite of early reforms attempted in 1999 to improve the performance management system, critics are still concerned about (a) overgenerous appraisals of work performance; (b) remuneration packages of the civil service largely unrelated to work; and (c) lengthy disciplinary procedures against civil servants accused of misconduct.

To brainstorm more ideas for strengthening governance capability, we suggest Hong Kong take a leaf from Singapore’s successful experience, as the city-state also inherited its civil service from the British. According to Thomas Friedman, the Singapore Civil Service is one of the most efficient and uncorrupt bureaucracies in the world, with a high standard of discipline and accountability. It is an unassailable fact that the performance management system has played an important role in incentivizing civil servants in Singapore.

The three key features of its performance management system are: (a) introducing performance-related pay mechanisms to make civil servants’ remuneration dependent on work performance; (b) adopting quotas or relative rankings in appraisals to differentiate effective performers from ineffective performers or free-riders; and (c) specifying a time limit in each step of disciplinary procedures for misconduct. Besides, Lee may consider rewarding civil servants for working well with others. In her book The Power of Collaboration (2018), Thea Singer Spitzer tries to propagate the above collaborative rewarding system, which has worked well in Silicon Valley.

Concerning livelihood issues, we believe that these problems have sunk deep roots into the soil of local politics and they have adversely affected social cohesion and the legitimacy of the SAR government. In addition to giving broad support to Lee’s housing and land policies, we would like to specifically comment on three highlighted items in relation to his housing and land policies. One of the highlights is the establishment of two high-level task forces led by the secretaries of departments to speed up housing and land supply. One task force will focus on how to better coordinate procedures and departments in charge of land development.

As mentioned earlier in this column, an application for lease modification will be circulated by the District Land Officer to invite feedback from different departments. With so many departments to consult, there is plenty of scope for disagreement, which can cause delays. Therefore, there is debate as to whether the executive can rely on executive orders to boost the efficiency of lease modification or other land development applications. In Rowse vs Secretary for Civil Service (2008) 5 HKLRD 217, the Court of First Instance makes it clear that a prerogative order, once enacted, is no less binding on and enforceable against the chief executive than an ordinance.

Another highlight is the creative proposal to provide an option for public housing applicants to move in before the project’s overall infrastructure is complete. It is estimated that the waiting time will be cut by one year. We think it is a feasible proposal. We also support the adoption of new technologies (e.g., modular integrated construction) in the construction of public housing so as to shorten the waiting time.

It is worthy of, and deserves, the support of the business community to fully endorse the six competition-boosting policies stipulated in Lee’s manifesto. The Hong Kong economy has always been positioning itself to explore the unlimited economic opportunities offered by the Chinese mainland while engaging the outside world. Unfortunately, geographical rivalries in the region may, under a worst-case scenario, affect the traditional middleman role played by Hong Kong. The prosperous Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area will then become an island of economic opportunities in a sea of geopolitical turmoil. There is no doubt that our future lies in the GBA.

We further suggest demarcating a special zone within the proposed Northern Metropolis to merge with Luohu district of Shenzhen and form a co-administered deep cooperation zone. The ultimate aim is to enlarge the deep cooperation zone into a high-tech economic powerhouse in South China. This ambitious project will not only facilitate the city’s economic restructuring and diversification, it will also allow Hong Kong to use it as a springboard to promote deeper and faster economic integration with the mainland cities of the GBA. Finally, we strongly support the creation of a digital currency, the promotion of green finance and the rejuvenation of the Islamic bond market.

With regard to the fourth area in Lee’s manifesto, we find no grounds in raising any dissenting voices. But it is as important now as it has ever been for policymakers to pay adequate attention to the strong correlation between social inequality and poor early-childhood education. James Heckman finds that ability gaps between individuals and across socioeconomic groups open at early ages, for both cognitive and noncognitive skills. Early intervention is necessary.

We should not punish poor children by providing them with poor early-childhood education.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, and co-founder of the Together We Can and Hong Kong Coalition.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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