Lam promises more land, more maternity leave, more ‘fearless’ action against independence advocates in 2018 policy address

Carrie Lam addressing lawmakers this morning. Via Legco webcast

It’s everyone’s favorite day of the year. POLICY ADDRESS TIME! Well, that might be overselling it a little. At least it was quick.

In record time, Carrie Lam launched her second policy address this morning, advancing some 214 measures covering issues spanning land supply, housing affordability, maternity leave, education, research, and public transport.

Inspirationally titled Striving Ahead, Rekindling Hope, the full document runs to about 40,000 words and is available online here.

Revealing it this morning at the Legislative Council, Lam delivered a blessedly abridged version, speaking for about 40 minutes, following the ejection of several pro-democratic lawmakers from the chamber for protesting threats to press freedom.

Though she didn’t mention the recent heavily criticized rejection of a working visa for a Financial Times journalist, Lam did make several comments on politics.

She condemned criticism of decisions by the judiciary — a seeming veiled reference to claims prosecutions have targeted pro-democracy advocates — and explicitly warned the government would “not tolerate” any act of “advocate independence” or that “threatens the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests.”

“We will fearlessly take actions against such acts according to the law in order to safeguard the interests of the country and Hong Kong,” she said.

“To nip the problem in the bud, we have also reinforced among all sectors understanding of the Constitution, the Basic Law and national security and fostered an awareness of ‘One Country’ in the community.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, fostering awareness of the “two systems” part of that equation doesn’t appear to be part of the agenda.

She added that the government would work to create conditions favorable to enacting national security legislation, a yet unfulfilled requirement under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the same position long espoused on the controversial topic. 

As for the various measures unveiled today — which follow on from a public consultation period which yielded some 12,800 submissions from the public — she said the policy address carried her “unswerving determination in leading Hong Kong to strive forward.”

“While there are many words, they serve just one purpose: rekindling hope for Hong Kong,” she said.

Here are some of the highlights.

Land shortage/housing crisis

Saying the success of all the government’s plans “hinge” on boosting land supply and housing affordability, Lam advanced several measures.

Lantau Tomorrow Vision

Among the most controversial, the chief executive endorsed a plan to build an artificial island to the east of Lantau, a reclamation project which would cover some 1,700 hectares and take more than 20 years. The plans, she said, would include an array of new infrastructure and allow for some 260,000-400,000 new residential units, 70 percent of which would be public housing.

Brownfield sites in the New Territories

Lam said the government would “speed up” the studies on the potential to develop brownfield sites in the New Territories.

Industrial building conversion

Lam said the government would allow the wholesale conversion of industrial buildings for transitional housing.

Land-Sharing Pilot Scheme

Lam flagged a new “land-sharing scheme” to use private land to meet housing needs. The chief executive says the scheme will be transparent and that between 60 percent and 70 percent of flats built on the land will be public housing

Subsidized housing pricing

Another measure touted during the speech — though previously announced — was adjusting the pricing of subsidized flats under the Subsidised Sale Flats (SSF) scheme. Selling prices, she said,  will no longer be linked to market prices of private flats.

Working/Employment Arrangements

Maternity leave extension

Noting her position as Hong Kong’s first female chief executive, Lam said she was determined to improve matters in the field of women’s development.

Among the notable measures announced in this vein, Lam said the government would extend maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks. Employers, she said, could apply for reimbursement of the additional four weeks covering up to about HK$36,800. For female workers in the public sector, this change will take effect immediately.

Pension arrangements

Lam also said the government would increase subsidies to employers to offset its decision to remove the controversial MPF mechanism that allows employers to deduct their contributions to make severance and long-service payments. The overall subsidy scheme will be increased to HK$29.3 billion. She said the government wanted to pass the necessary legislation before 2022.

Public Transport/Traffic

Lam announced that the government would pay for all franchised bus tolls on the Western Harbour Tunnel so bus companies can avoid raising fares for passengers.

She also said the government was working to reduce tolls on the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Harbour tunnel to redistribute traffic and alleviate congestion.

Infrastructure

Elevator repairs

Lam said the government will spend HK$2.5 billion (US$319 million) to upgrade old lifts, an announcement which follows three serious lift accidents this year that killed one person and injured another two.

Car parking

The government plans to add at least 1,500 public car parking spaces will be provided in suitable government facilities and public open space projects over the next five years.

Education

The government will add another HK$4.7 billion in additional recurrent expenditure to the education sector to back several new initiatives, including boosting teachers’ development, school administration, getting more students into tertiary education and arranging better support for pupils in need.

Welfare/Health

The government will review and decide “when and how” to import more professional caregivers to boost subsidized elderly care services. It also promised to crack down on unscrupulous practices affecting foreign domestic workers.

Despite previously announcing they would be regulated, Lam announced that e-cigarettes would be banned.

The government, according to the policy address, will allocate resources to subsidize the operation of district health centers to the tune of about HK$100 million a year.

Some HK$500 million will be set aside for work to support ethnic minorities and HK$1 billion for funding youth policies advanced by the new Youth Development Commission.

Research/Innovation

In her speech, Lam flagged plans to invest an additional $28 billion for university research, re-industrialisation, application of technology in public services and the fostering of an enabling environment for the information and technology sector.

Arts and Culture

According to the policy address, some $20 billion has been set aside for upgrading existing cultural hardware and building new facilities, and $500 million will be allocated to the LCSD to acquire museum collections and organise exhibitions.

Lam said the government’s vision was to turn Hong Kong into an “international cultural metropolis.”

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