7 highlights from Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's maiden policy speech

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on October 11 that Hong Kongers have a duty to stand up for China over threats to its sovereignty.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on October 11 that Hong Kongers have a duty to stand up for China over threats to its sovereignty.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday (Oct 11) delivered her maiden policy address since taking office on July 1.

Among other things, she announced that Hong Kong will pump more money into the city's drive to become a smart city and cut company profits tax to boost the city's economy which she said faces "grave" challenges.

She also promised to build more homes for families struggling to find one in the world's most expensive property market in the closely-watched policy address which lay out her government's priorities for the next five years.

And in a break with tradition, Mrs Lam, 60, ditched the word-for-word delivery of the policy address and delivered her speech in just over 40 minutes.

Here are seven highlights of her policy address.

1. RAPID FIRE PACE OF DELIVERY

Mrs Lam kept to her promise of keeping her policy address short and sweet. In fact, she maintained what broadcaster rthk described as "a breathless pace".

She took her first sip of water 25 minutes into the speech, one reporter tweeted.

Many of the city's media outlets scrambled to keep up with her speech which was delivered in the local dialect Cantonese.

Unlike her predecessors, who spent hours reading out the policy address word by word, Mrs Lam finished delivering her first policy address to the Legislative Council in just over 40 minutes on Wednesday morning.

She highlighted only the key points, condensing the 49,000-word policy document into a 42-paragraph speech of about 8,600 words.

The city's first female leader, who is known for her tough cookie image and no-nonsense style, said the time saved could be better spent addressing questions from the media and lawmakers.

Anyway, the full text of the policy address will be available online, she said on Tuesday.

Also, without the time constraints of having to read it aloud, there was less pressure to keep the word count down, said Mrs Lam, who was the city's No. 2 official as Chief Secretary before she became the Chief Executive.

It would have taken up to four hours to read her policy address word by word.

"I think they're worried that they will fall asleep in the audience," she had earlier quipped, referring to feedback from her Executive Council members on the length of policy addresses.

2. GRANT TO PAY FOR AIR-CONDITIONING IN SCHOOLS

Starting from next academic year, public schools in Hong Kong will be offered a recurrent "Air-conditioning Grant".

Under the scheme, educational institutions can use the funds to meet expenses related to air-conditioning of classrooms and other facilities, including paying for electricity charges and routine maintenance costs.

The grant, Mrs Lam said on Wednesday, is aimed at helping schools "provide a more comfortable teaching and learning environment for teachers and students in hot weather".

The Hong Kong Observatory has issued several "very hot" weather warnings this year.

The city recorded its highest temperature since records began in 1880, with the mercury tipping 36.6 deg C on Aug 22.

3. TWO MILLION COMMUTERS TO GET TRANSPORT SUBSIDY

Users of Hong Kong's Octopus card, similar to Singapore's EZ link cards, will receive subsidies up to HK$300 if they spend more than HK$400 a month.

The travel subsidy applies to all forms of public transport (covering the MTR, franchised buses, green mini-buses, ferries and trams) as long as the commuter uses an Octopus card.

Once a commuter spent HK$400 for the month, the government will pay 25 per cent of their fares after that, subject to a cap of HK$300 a month.

For example, if a commuter spends HK$500 on transport, they can receive HK$25.

Mrs Lam said that the proposal, which is aimed at relieving the burden for long-distance commuters, comes after three months of work by the Transport and Housing Bureau.

The government will pay for the discount using part of the dividends it gets from the MTR Corporation, in which the government is the major shareholder.

Mrs Lam said she expects more than two million Hong Kongers to benefit from the plan, which she had pledged during her chief executive election campaign.

Hong Kongers make more than 12 million trips on various public transport services every day.

4. SPORTS STADIUM SPARED WRECKING BALL


Mrs Lam's decision not to demolish the Wan Chai Sports Ground was welcomed by the city's track and field community, reported South China Morning Post. PHOTO: SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

Mrs Lam said the government had decided to shelve redevelopment plans for the Wan Chai Sports Ground which was proposed by her predecessor Leung Chun Ying.

Mr Leung, who once triggered an uproar for saying that some sectors such as sports and religion do not contribute to the economy, had planned to demolish the sports facility sited on prime land along the harbourfront to make way for an expansion of an convention centre.

Instead, Mrs Lam announced on Wednesday that the government would knock down three government buildings next to the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai North to free up space for a new wing which will add about 23,000 sq m of convention and exhibition space.

Mrs Lam's decision not to demolish the Wan Chai Sports Ground, one of the most popular training and competition venues in land scarce Hong Kong, was welcomed by the city's track and field community, reported South China Morning Post.

The stadium opened in 1979.

5. LONGER BREAKS FOR NEW FATHERS

In a move to boost low birth rates, the city's statutory paternity leave will be increased from three to five days, and a study will be launched on whether the current 10-weeks of maternity leave should be extended, Mrs Lam said in her policy address.

A study will be launched on whether the current 10-weeks of maternity leave should be extended. Hong Kong's fertility rate has been on a decline trend over the past 33 years, hitting 1.20 per woman in 2015.

The number of elderly persons aged 65 and above is projected to more than double in the coming 20 years, with post-war baby boomers entering old age.

It will increase from 1.16 million in 2016 to 2.37 million in 2036. By 2066, the number of elderly people are projected to reach 2.59 million - 36.6 per cent of the population.

Mrs Lam that said despite the government devoting substantial resources to public hospitals, it is still hard for the health care system to cope with the rapidly ageing population.

A new pilot centre will be set up in the Kwai Tsing district in New Territories to provide community care for the elderly.

6. TRAINING COLLEGE FOR CIVIL SERVANTS

In a first for Hong Kong,the government will set up a training college for its 170,000 civil servants, an idea Mrs Lam first mooted during her visit to Singapore in August.

She had visited the city-state's Civil Service College and several government agencies during her two-day visit to Singapore in August.

"I visited the Civil Service College five years ago. The reason why I came again is... to explore in Hong Kong a dedicated civil service academy or college in order to provide more training for our civil servants, especially in several areas such as leadership, public participation and also in terms of the application and use of technology," she told reporters then.

Hong Kong's civil servants deserve a well- resourced training facility similar to Singapore's Civil Service College, she has said during her two-day visit.

Mrs Lam, herself a career civil servant with nearly 37 years of experience in the civil service, confirmed the decision in her policy address on Wednesday and said the government is looking for a site for the college.

She added on Wednesday the civil service will grow by at least three per cent to "meet public expectations in policy implementation".

7. ICONIC PROTEST SITE TO REOPEN

An area outside government headquarters will be reopened to protesters by the end of the year, three years after then Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying sealed off the site in the wake of mass protests.

The area known as 'Civic Square' was the focal point of protests led by pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, which became a prelude to the Occupy Central protests that rocked Hong Kong in late 2014.

In the full version of her policy address posted online, Mrs Lam said the forecourt outside the government complex will be reopened by end of this year.

The announcement was not included in the speech to legislators on Wednesday morning.

Mrs Lam steered clear of thorny political issues in her speech on Wednesday, only reiterating President Xi Jinping's comments that the "one country, two systems' policy is the best path for Hong Kong.

"Everybody with a passion for Hong Kong has the responsibility to ensure that, here in Hong Kong, 'one country, two systems' advances in the right direction," she said.

"The obligation to say 'no' to any attempt to threaten our country's sovereignty, security and development interests, as well as the duty to nurture our next generation into citizens with a sense of national identity, an affection for Hong Kong and a sense of social responsibility."

SOURCES: SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, RTHK, EJINSIGHT WEBSITE