[UPDATE - Wednesday, January 13, 5.30pm]
Leung Chun-ying’s two-hour remarks at Legislative Council today touched on a wide range of issues affecting the city.
Leung finally touched upon the city's core values towards the end of his address, but stresses the importance of economic growth for Hong Kong.
“The Government will continue to uphold Hong Kong’s core values such as human rights, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and clean governance. It will fully and faithfully implement the principles of “one country, two systems”, “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” and a high degree of autonomy in accordance with the Basic Law.”
The chief executive notes that the month-long free museum admission initiative under the recent “Appreciate Hong Kong Campaign” has been popular. He will make free admission to the permanent exhibitions of designated public museums a standing practice.
On heritage conservation, Leung says HK$500 million will be earmarked to implement the recommendations made by the Antiquities Advisory Board in the review. The fund will provide subsidies for public education, community involvement and academic research. It will also cover certain existing government initiatives and activities on conservation.
In terms of education, Leung says schools may turn the existing Senior Secondary Curriculum Support Grant as well as Career and Life Planning Grant into regular teaching posts from the 2016/17 school year.
This will provide about 1000 additional teaching posts at the Graduate Master/Mistress rank, he says.
According to Leung, the Government proposes to set up an $800 million Gifted Education Fund for supporting the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education’s work in nurturing exceptionally gifted students aged between 10 and 18.
Good news for special needs students, the ratio of educational psychologists to school will improve to 1:4 for schools with a large number of special needs students.
Leung is talking about vocational education as a way forward for youth who cannot find places in the tertiary institutions. Youth unemployment among those aged 19 to 25 who are not in school is an issue in the city. Leung says: “The Government will earmark a site in the urban district to develop a Vocational Training Council campus with adequate capacity and state-of-the-art facilities.”
[UPDATE - Wednesday, January 13, 12.40pm]
Leung said he will set up a new office to control rising costs of infrastructure projects in the city. The new office will be led by Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po. “The Government will put in place an indicative cost system for public works projects under a ‘no frills’ principle. Except for special circumstances and projects that have entered the design stage, the unit cost of all new government building projects must be lower than the set benchmarks.”
Almost no new initiatives were announced on housing.
However, Leung says “we must tackle the housing problem with resolve and perseverance.” He adds that efforts of the past 3.5 years have worked as rentals are “starting to fall”. He stresses that Hongkongers shouldn't doubt the government’s intention to tackle the housing problem, as we should continue to tackle the housing problem “head-on”.
Leung’s administration’s next big bet for the economy is IT. He announces plans to expand the industrial estate policy and to recover idle factory space as Hong Kong moves towards “re-industrialisation”: a new buzzword. Among the goodies is a $200m investment fund for start-ups and increase in wi-fi hotspots doubling to 34,000 spaces in three years. This would make Hong Kong one of the highest wi-fi densities in the world.
The widely-expected HK$500 million IT fund is announced. “Innovation and technology can improve our everyday life in a wide range of aspects…The Government will set aside $500 million to set up an Innovation and Technology Fund for Better Living to finance projects that make use of innovation and technology to improve our daily life.”
[UPDATE - Wednesday, January 13, 12.01pm]
Heckling began soon after Leung's entrance into the chamber at Legco.
People Power’s Albert Chan Wai-yip tried to approach Leung but was stopped by security guards.
“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung shouted criticised Leung for the lack of standard working hours and retirement protection, and called him a liar.
“Long Hair” then interrupts Leung's speech on economic development by playing an audio recording of a past policy speech made by the chief executive. “Long Hair” is dragged out of the chamber shouting “it's three years! You haven't delivered standard working hours!”
On economic development, Leung says “the government is working with the financial sector, scientific research institutions and regulatory authorities to develop Hong Kong into a financial technology hub.”
Leung notes that tourist figures have gone down by 2.5 per cent, with a decrease in mainland tourists.
After Leung talks about the government's intention to boost creative industries, Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-yan interrupts with a placard reading “Where is Lee Bo?” Lee shouts at Leung asking what has he done about the missing booksellers, and says their disappearances are hurting Hongkongers' confidence in “one country, two systems”. Lee and his party leaves in protest with no response from Leung.
This morning Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying will deliver his annual policy address. It will map out his administration’s agenda for 2016, which has been described as a ‘make-or-break’ year for Leung, whose popularity ratings are at an all-time low. Analysts predict he will try to manage expectations and, unlike in previous years, he will not offer many more goodies.
Why? For consolidation. Leung has to keep the promises he has made since being elected in 2012, and prepare himself for a likely re-election bid in 2017. And next year, he will only have two months after giving his last policy address before going into full campaign mode. So, Leung has a lot to deliver to win back support.
Many expect an announcement for the establishment of a big matching fund to entice overseas venture capitalists to fund technology start-ups here. Last week, the figure touted was HK$500 million, but latest reports say it could be HK$2 billion. The big economic bet is on the IT sector, after a three-year battle to launch an Innovation and Technology Bureau that Leung promised at the start of his term and finally saw through last November. He is also expected to reach out to young parents by increasing the number of children in non-profit kindergartens who will not have to pay tuition charges to 70 per cent, from 17 per cent.
What’s on Hongkongers’ minds
Overall, the slowing economy remains a key concern, as Hongkongers look for fresh ideas to boost Hong Kong's economy.
Beyond livelihood issues, Leung is not likely to tackle tricky subjects like revising MPF offsets to ensure a fairer deal for workers or retirement protection.
Will he say more on housing, a key plank of his government pledges in the past four years?
Will he talk about HK-mainland relations which have always been tense? Will he comment on the mysterious booksellers disappearances, whom many suspect were abducted to the mainland? Many are hoping he will.
Significantly, Leung’s popularity dipped to 37.5 points in the latest survey by the University of Hong Kong. The survey was done between Monday and Wednesday last week, when Hongkongers reacted with alarm at how bookseller Lee Bo vanished on December 30 and with local authorities at a loss for answers.