HK leader outlines steps to tackle high housing costs

Security aides rushing to shield Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam after a pro-democracy legislator threw a placard at her while she was leaving the Legislative Council yesterday. Pro-democracy lawmakers disrupted Mrs Lam's annual policy address,
Security aides rushing to shield Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam after a pro-democracy legislator threw a placard at her while she was leaving the Legislative Council yesterday. Pro-democracy lawmakers disrupted Mrs Lam's annual policy address, forcing the Hong Kong leader to make her speech in a televised video. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Carrie Lam's policy address covers over 220 initiatives in bid to break political impasse

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam devoted most of her annual policy address yesterday to easing the housing crisis in a bid to break the political impasse that has led to mostly violent protests in the past 19 weeks.

As she started her third policy address in the legislative chamber, a group of pan-democratic law-makers disrupted the session, shouting and jeering.

After two unsuccessful attempts to deliver the address, Mrs Lam ended up making her speech in a televised video.

She started her hour-long speech by condemning the violence that has escalated in the city, and urged residents to protect Hong Kong's core values such as the rule of law and the principle of "one country, two systems".

Her speech covered more than 220 initiatives, and included measures to tackle unaffordable housing by bumping up funding for temporary housing from the promised HK$2 billion (S$350 million) to HK$5 billion now, building 10,000 transitional housing units in the next three years and seizing up to 160ha of brownfield sites in the New Territories for public housing.

Mrs Lam described these measures as a "breakthrough in thinking", but this view was not shared by many.

Executive Council member Regina Ip said: "Naturally, she was not able to address the fundamental problems with Hong Kong's economic development, and that is the erosion of our competitiveness in many areas, including in trade and logistics, as you can see in the decline of the throughput of our container terminal and the small size of our market.

"So, that is why the only strategies proposed by the Chief Executive are to leverage the mainland's market under the Greater Bay Area development as well as the Belt and Road Initiative."

 
 
 
 

The Non-official Members of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, a government advisory body, said in a statement yesterday that the Chief Executive "has demonstrated her determination to overcome challenges through proposing bold measures to boost short-, medium-and long-term land supply through different means".

Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers called for Mrs Lam's exit, but said they will work with the government on pressing livelihood issues.

In the United States late on Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed the Hong Kong Rights and Democracy Act that could end Hong Kong's special trading status with the US unless the State Department certifies annually that human rights and the rule of law are respected in the city.

The move has earned "strong indignation" from China. It accused external forces of fuelling weeks of unrest in Hong Kong, and told Washington to stop meddling.

When asked about this, Mrs Lam said: "We don't need a foreign legislature to tell us about the importance of Hong Kong's human rights, Hong Kong's freedoms and Hong Kong's rule of law because these are core values of Hong Kong and something that every Hong Konger will protect to its utmost."

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Associate Professor Sing Ming said the measures are not quick enough to dramatically alleviate current tensions "because the core demands among the protesters and the general public are not related to housing".

"Rather, they are related to the rule of law, to police brutality and full democracy," he said. "The measures of today are far from adequate to reduce the fervour of the ongoing protests against the government."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2019, with the headline 'HK leader outlines steps to tackle high housing costs'. Print Edition | Subscribe