Leader-elect Carrie Lam very determined to tackle Hong Kong's housing problem

Hong Kong's chief executive-elect Carrie Lam speaking during a press conference with Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying in Hong Kong, on March 27, 2017.
Hong Kong's chief executive-elect Carrie Lam speaking during a press conference with Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying in Hong Kong, on March 27, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong's leader-elect Carrie Lam said on Tuesday (March 28) that she was “very determined” to tackle the high cost of housing in the densely populated city, among the top concerns of foreign business people working there.

Mrs Lam, the Chinese-controlled financial hub’s former chief secretary, was chosen on Sunday by a 1,200-person committee to lead the city, pledging in her victory speech to unite political divisions, illustrated by huge pro-democracy protests in 2014, that have hindered policy-making and legislative work.

Speaking at a Credit Suisse investment conference in Hong Kong, Beijing-backed Mrs Lam also said the former British colony faces tough competition from the region and also from mainland Chinese cities which are “becoming very powerful”.

The cost of housing is one of Hong Kong’s biggest social issues and making homes more affordable was among outgoing leader Leung Chun-ying’s top priorities, something he failed to achieve.

Mrs Lam said land and labour were two “major bottlenecks” for Hong Kong’s development.

“On the land issue, I am very determined to tackle that in the next term of government in a big way,” she told an audience of 200 financial and business professionals. “It’s not just looking at the annual land sale programme but really, the long-term supply of land, or better still, a land bank for Hong Kong.”

Mrs Lam also pledged during her campaign to tackle the problem by increasing land supply.

In perhaps her strongest admission to date on China’s perceived behind-the-scenes interference in Hong Kong politics, she told a radio programme she knew the Central Liaison Office, China’s top representative office in Hong Kong, had been involved in lobbying legislators in the past.

“We do not need our friends at the Central Liaison Office to worry,” she told reporters after the programme, saying she wouldn’t welcome its involvement in Hong Kong affairs under her administration.

Hong Kong police on Monday charged nine organisers of the 2014 demonstrations, just a day after Mrs Lam was chosen, provoking anger among protesters after she had vowed to try to unite society.

Since those protests, there have also been some calls for independence in the city which operates under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing it freedoms not enjoyed on the Communist Party-ruled mainland.

Mrs Lam said if the city started to argue about whether it should become independent, then “we have no common basis to start this common journey to give Hong Kong a better future”.

The next few months will be critical for Leung and Mrs Lam, with Chinese President Xi Jinping expected to pay a visit on July 1 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British rule, with large protests expected.

The city also had a lot of catching up to do in terms of comprehensive double tax agreements, Mrs Lam said. In her victory speech on Sunday, she pledged to follow through on her promise to introduce a two-tier profits tax.