OFFICIAL RECORD OF PROCEEDINGS
Thursday, 9 October 1997
The Council met at Three o'clock
THE HONOURABLE MRS RITA FAN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE WONG SIU-YEE
THE HONOURABLE JAMES TIEN PEI-CHUN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE DAVID CHU YU-LIN
THE HONOURABLE EDWARD HO SING-TIN, J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE RAYMOND HO CHUNG-TAI, J.P.
PROF THE HONOURABLE NG CHING-FAI
THE HONOURABLE ERIC LI KA-CHEUNG, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE LEE KAI-MING
THE HONOURABLE MRS ELSIE TU, G.B.M.
THE HONOURABLE MRS SELINA CHOW, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MRS PEGGY LAM, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE HENRY WU
THE HONOURABLE NGAI SHIU-KIT, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE HENRY TANG YING-YEN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE RONALD ARCULLI, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE YUEN MO
THE HONOURABLE CHEUNG HON-CHUNG
DR THE HONOURABLE MRS TSO WONG MAN-YIN
THE HONOURABLE LEUNG CHUN-YING, J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE LEONG CHE-HUNG, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MRS SOPHIE LEUNG LAU YAU-FUN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MOK YING-FAN
THE HONOURABLE CHAN CHOI-HI
THE HONOURABLE CHAN YUEN-HAN
THE HONOURABLE CHAN WING-CHAN
THE HONOURABLE CHAN KAM-LAM
THE HONOURABLE TSANG YOK-SING
THE HONOURABLE CHENG KAI-NAM
THE HONOURABLE FREDERICK FUNG KIN-KEE
DR THE HONOURABLE PHILIP WONG YU-HONG
THE HONOURABLE KENNEDY WONG YING-HO
THE HONOURABLE HOWARD YOUNG, J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE CHARLES YEUNG CHUN-KAM
THE HONOURABLE YEUNG YIU-CHUNG
THE HONOURABLE IP KWOK-HIM
THE HONOURABLE CHIM PUI-CHUNG
THE HONOURABLE LAU KONG-WAH
THE HONOURABLE LAU WONG-FAT, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MRS MIRIAM LAU KIN-YEE, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE AMBROSE LAU HON-CHUEN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE CHOY KAN-PUI, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE PAUL CHENG MING-FUN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE CHENG YIU-TONG
DR THE HONOURABLE TANG SIU-TONG, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE TIMOTHY FOK TSUN-TING
THE HONOURABLE KAN FOOK-YEE
THE HONOURABLE NGAN KAM-CHUEN
THE HONOURABLE LO SUK-CHING
DR THE HONOURABLE LAW CHEUNG-KWOK
THE HONOURABLE TAM YIU-CHUNG, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE CHOY SO-YUK
THE HONOURABLE HO SAI-CHU, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE NG LEUNG-SING
DR THE HONOURABLE DAVID LI KWOK-PO, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE ALLEN LEE, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MA FUNG-KWOK
THE HONOURABLE HUI YIN-FAT, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE ANDREW WONG WANG-FAT, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE BRUCE LIU SING-LEE
PUBLIC OFFICERS ATTENDING:
THE HONOURABLE MRS ANSON CHAN, J.P.
CHIEF SECRETARY FOR ADMINISTRATION
THE HONOURABLE DONALD TSANG YAM-KUEN, J.P.
THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY
THE HONOURABLE ELSIE LEUNG OI-SIE, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR JUSTICE
MR MICHAEL SUEN MING-YEUNG, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
MR CHAU TAK-HAY, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR BROADCASTING, CULTURE AND SPORT
MR NICHOLAS NG WING-FUI, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT
MR DOMINIC WONG SHING-WAH, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR HOUSING
MR RAFAEL HUI SI-YAN, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES
MR JOSEPH WONG WING-PING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER
MR PETER LAI HING-LING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY
MR BOWEN LEUNG PO-WING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS
MR KWONG KI-CHI, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR THE TREASURY
MR DAVID LAN HUNG-TSUNG, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR HOME AFFAIRS
MISS DENISE YUE CHUNG-YEE, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY
MR LAM WOON-KWONG, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR THE CIVIL SERVICE
MR LEE SHING-SEE, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR WORKS
MS MARIA KWAN SIK-NING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES
CLERK IN ATTENDANCE:
MR RICKY FUNG CHOI-CHEUNG, J.P., SECRETARY GENERAL
PURSUANT TO RULE 8 OF THE RULES OF PROCEDURE, THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE, THE HONOURABLE TUNG CHEE-HWA, ATTENDED TO ADDRESS THE COUNCIL AND TO RECEIVE QUESTIONS.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Would Members please remain standing and wait for the Chief Executive to enter the Chamber?
CLERK (in Cantonese): Chief Executive.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): First of all, I would like to invite the Chief Executive to speak on the policy address delivered yesterday.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Ladies and gentlemen, as I have spoken for more than two hours yesterday, I am not prepared to address you again. I would rather wait until Members ask me questions.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): There are so many Members raising their hands. It is difficult to mark down their names all at once. Let us start from the back. Mr Ambrose LAU.
MR AMBROSE LAU (in Cantonese): Madam President, I would like to ask the Chief Executive: in your Policy Address, it is mentioned that a lot of infrastructure works will be carried out. Meanwhile, you have also mentioned that decisions will later be made as to whether certain plans for railway development and road network will be implemented. Before making decisions, would you look into the problem of co-ordination, since the simultaneous construction of too many large-scale projects may cast an impact on inflation?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): In fact, why did I refrain from saying that they would be all constructed at the same time? On the one hand, I have thought of feasibility; on the other hand, I have of course thought of our affordability because a conservative approach in financial policy has always been our way to success. At the same time, I certainly have to take into consideration problems including inflation, so the infrastructure works have to follow the regular sequence.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LAU, do you have a supplementary question?
MR AMBROSE LAU (in Cantonese): In the Policy Address you mentioned that decisions will be later made as regards many large-scale infrastructure projects. When you make the decisions, will you consider in particular whether the simultaneous constructions of several large-scale projects will cast an impact on, and will hence speed up, inflation? In the light of your proposals in the Policy Address, will government officials of the different ranks deliberate on the problem of inflation and thus make adequate arrangements so that the large-scale infrastructure works will not be carried out at the same time?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): We will of course take that into consideration. Actually, we have made enormous investments in the construction of the airport in recent years. Now the airport facilities are almost completed and it is a good time for us to start other infrastructure constructions. However, we will definitely reflect on the problem of inflation because inflation has always been a dire threat to Hong Kong.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs Selina CHOW.
MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): Madam President, the Chief Executive has received an unanimously favourable response for his education policy because people can see that he has great determination to develop education and the investment will be enormous. His education policy will receive definite support from the society. However, in the series of policies that the Chief Executive lays down, one is about language in particular. I believe people do have demands for better language skills. We all know that, recently, both public opinion and parents hold certain views concerning the use of the mother tongue as a medium for teaching. On one hand, they are afraid that the children will lose their ability in English if they receive education in the mother tongue. On the other hand, resistance also comes from schools because they are worried that the native-speaking English teachers may not be able to get accustomed to conditions in Hong Kong and thus may also encounter problems in the English they teaching. How will you deal with the voices of opposition in these two aspects?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mrs Selina CHOW, we are all very concerned about language skills. We all hope that both the Chinese and English standards can be raised and a lot of work have to be done in this area.
I believe teaching in the mother tongue is a very important matter and a very important direction. I think that teaching in the mother tongue can help not only improve the Chinese and English skills of our students, but the learning of other non-language subjects can also be benefitted.
As for those anxieties, I can well understand them. But I think we have to explain more and try to convince them that we are doing this for the sake of the long-term interests of our education community as a whole and the students.
We are employing native-speaking English teachers because we feel that the English standard of our present English teachers may not be good enough, so we are taking this road. It will not be a long-term policy. Secondly, I believe it will be like a booster to us that these native-speaking English teachers come to help us. There are bound to be anxieties in the course of any changes, our common goal is to allay such anxieties.
MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): I want to state it very clearly that I am in full and vigorous support of these two policies. However, we cannot neglect that there are actually some people who have certain reservations regarding these policies. I feel that the Government ought to work more on explaining the two policies so as to set the parents' minds at ease because their children can really benefit, and to make the education community support the policy of employing more native-speaking English teachers.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Thank you.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr Frederick FUNG.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): One of the proposals in the Chief Executive's Policy Address is the increase of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). It is proposed that the CSSA will be raised by $380 next year, which means approximately an increase of $11 per day. For this proposal, the Government's expenditure will grow by less than $500 million. In fact, the Government has earlier commissioned Dr CHOW Wing-sun to make a study on expenses incurred by the elderly. Dr CHOW has himself published a lot of articles in the newspapers concerning the issue, in which the figure he proposed has always been higher than $380. Can the Chief Executive consider increasing the $380 for the elderly immediately, and again study and deliberate on the CSSA for the elderly when the Financial Secretary will present the Budget in April next year?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr FUNG, everybody is very concerned with the elderly, and I am also highly concerned. It would be a good thing to offer them more assistances, and it would be good too to make such offer earlier. We had considered for a long time before we proposed this figure. There are outcries in the society asking why is the increase so scanty? Can it be raised? Can the increase be given earlier? I asked myself what figure would be more reasonable? Everybody is studying and deliberating on the matter. In reality, this figure is not entirely unreasonable because I feel that, for the elderly, apart from money, other services, and care from their families, are more important, indeed, they are much more important. I very much hope that all the families would take better care of and be more supportive of the elderly.
On the other hand, the expenditure of the series of services I mentioned will amount to $200 million in the first year, and will gradually increase to $500 million in the coming four to five years. Therefore, other than the money given as CSSA to the singleton elderly, expenses in other areas are also rising very rapidly. We have taken both aspects into consideration at the same time.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, I would like to ask a supplementary question. If the Chief Executive refuses to review this figure, it means that he endorses the present basic rate, which is $2,060 for singleton elderly. With this amount, only $30 can be used on the three meals each day ─ $30 for breakfast, lunch and dinner. How can you endorse such a figure?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr FUNG, I think the problems of the elderly, of the mandatory provident fund and of the comparatively older people who lose their jobs in the course of industrial transformation are all problems over which our society are deeply concerned. Taking care of the elderly is something that our community should do, and for that reason, other than offering CSSA to the elderly, the whole issue has to be studied. The first step will be the active promotion of the mandatory provident fund, and then we will try to think whether there are other things we can do. I feel that the society should view the matter comprehensively from this angle.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr TSANG Yok-sing.
MR TSANG YOK-SING (in Cantonese): Madam President, the Chief Executive reminds us in his Policy Address about the development of Hong Kong's political structure as laid down in the Basic Law, which has set an ultimate aim and has scheduled a timetable for the forthcoming 10 years. I would like to ask the Chief Executive if he intends to adopt measures within his term of office to accomplish as soon as possible this ultimate aim of electing the Chief Executive and all the Members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr TSANG, in accordance with the Basic Law, after 10 years, we can review the method of implementation and the ultimate aim of electing the Chief Executive and all the 60 members of the Leigslative Council by universal suffrage. I do not intend to accomplish this matter within the few years to come because I think that we have already had too much rows over the issue in the past five years. I would rather concentrate my efforts on tackling the many problems concerning the people's livelihood and education, while the community should try its best to benefit the people. However, this does not mean that we do not attach importance to democracy, actually we do. The development of democracy is very important to Hong Kong. As to whether I will implement universal suffrage in the future, I will not take it into consideration until several years after.
MR TSANG YOK-SING (in Cantonese): I would like to ask a supplementary question. After all, the Basic Law is a document passed in 1990. From 1990 till now, certainly Hong Kong has experienced a lot of changes and developments. Lately there have been a lot of opinions regarding whether the Basic Law can be amended earlier so that the timetable laid down in it can be carried out faster. I would like to know what attitude does the Chief Executive assume towards such a demand?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr TSANG, I believe that everybody knows I am a relatively conservative person! (Laughter) I have not given much thought to this aspect. At present, the pace laid down by the Basic Law is opined by some to be too slow, while others say it is too fast. However, I find the pace highly suitable to the present needs of Hong Kong.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr Eric LI.
MR ERIC LI (in Cantonese): Madam President, I think that Mr TUNG has shown unparalleled determination and commitment to the housing policy, which is worthy of our commendation. You are really very successful. However, having said that, there are still two minority groups of people who fret over the problem of obtaining institutional care, or they may even have the feeling of being treated unfairly to a certain extent. These people are the disabled, and the elderly who need nursing care.
As far as these two groups of people are concerned, no clear and definite objective has been laid down for them in the Policy Address and some of the previous goals have not been realized either. For example, it was said that five infirmaries would be built before 1997 but there is only one at present. As for the disabled, we know that there are over 5 000 of them on the list and some of them have waited for as long as seven years. When the Financial Secretary supervises committees to extensively build edifices, this minority has to rely on the Health and Welfare Bureau to fight for them a small piece of land for building an institution. Many of them are also worried that they would be given unjust treatment.
Will Mr TUNG promise us that the same degree of importance, or a even higher degree of importance, will be attached to these people? We are talking about equality between the physically handicapped and the able-bodied. But when others are building edifices, they, the people who need institutional care, are not given what they deserve.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr LI, I believe that the demand on land is in reality very great. Other than the demand you mentioned just now, there are also demands in housing and in education. I propose to implement whole-day schooling in the primary schools, but we do not know until next year when this can be fully implemented. On the other hand, the demand on land for housing is indeed enormous.
With regard to the question you asked a moment ago, Mrs FOK in fact will make a study of the issue. We have to look into the long-term needs and after clarifying and understanding these needs, I believe we will try our best to achieve the aims that people aspire to. I hope that we can see the situation in greater detail in the coming year.
MR ERIC LI (in Cantonese): Madam President, I have a brief supplementary question. I understand that Mr TUNG wishes to obtain an accurate figure before he sets a definite target to carry out his promise, and I find this a responsible way of doing things. However, many people are getting impatient in their waiting and the Government has acknowledged that there are over 5 000 disabled persons on the waiting list. In fact, a study was made of the residential care services for the elderly last year and the Government has received the report. As so many people are waiting, can Mr TUNG ask the Secretary for Health and Welfare to announce these plans so that citizens can be involved in the process of assessment and that they do not have to wait for one whole year without knowing what is going on?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr LI, I believe everybody anticipates eagerly that we can do things as fast as possible and as well as possible. But I do not want to give you a "rubber cheque". We will implement and explain as soon as possible.
PRESIDENT: Mrs Elsie TU.
MRS ELSIE TU: Madam President, I would like to ask the Chief Executive a question about imported labour. I am glad that you promised to give priority to local workers, but unemployed workers have told me that some bad employers advertised a job, interviewed the applicants but offered them only half the normal wage for the job, knowing that they would refuse the job and then they reported: "I cannot find workers. I need to import workers." They then offer a full salary to the imported workers but find a tricky way of paying only half. What sort of action can you take to stop this from happening?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE: I think we need to be very vigilant to all these bad practices and I am sure the Government will do everything possible. Recent examples have shown the Government's determination in this respect. I think whether we would import labour or not will very much depend on firstly, when jobs must first be offered to Hong Kong people and if there is only real shortage then we talk about importation of labour. There are two committees which have been set up within the Government from different industries. The committees consist of people from the Government, from labour unions, from the employer side, and from vocational training, to make sure that all resources are being exhausted, decide what needs to be done, and if there is a need to import any labour or not. It is a very good way of moving forward. Let us be patient. Let them get through with these studies before we decide how to move forward. But one thing is certain, if there is a decision to move forward, then we have to be very sure that these abuses which you talked about do not exist.
MRS ELSIE TU: Would it be possible to make some agreement with the workers themselves that it would be a criminal offence if they accept less than the salary offered to them?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE: I think there are some suggestions on the table, such as what would be the salaries, or if there should be median salaries, or would part of the salaries be actually paid into the Government as a training fund. These are the things that need to be looked at. But certainly there cannot be any abuse of this kind.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr CHENG Yiu-tong.
MR CHENG YIU-TONG (in Cantonese): Madam President. Mr TUNG, I have paid particular attention to your first Policy Address and found that you have not proposed to import labour immediately, but neither have you excluded the possibility of importing them, saying that labour will be imported if the situation so requires. However, I would like to point out a series of figures here to Mr TUNG: 95 000 units were constructed in 1989 when there were 73 000 construction workers; now we have over 80 000 construction workers plus a high degree of mechanization. If assessed with the present manpower, the construction of an average of 85 000 units per year can well be tackled.
The second series of figures is about the textile and garment industry. When the number of worker in this industry was at its peak, it amounted to 360 000 people. However, the number is reduced to 100 000 now, which means more than 200 000 workers have been eliminated through competition. The manpower at this time is sufficient to cope with the present needs.
So my question is: you said that labour will be imported if the need arises, what would the need be? Is it because of a shortage of labour? Or is it because the increase in the wages of local workers has stimulated inflation, so foreign labour has to be imported in order to suppress wages of local workers?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr CHENG, I think there is a need to import labour because in the construction industry, if we do not have enough labour we will not be able to meet the goal of 85 000 units. I believe we all agree this is a very important matter. If the goal cannot be achieved because there is a shortage of certain categories of labour, I think we should support the importation of labour specialized in that field. If we do have enough workers, the problem will not have existed at all. Therefore, we have devised a mechanism and a group led by the Government is discussing these problems. So, I would like to make decisions after the group has discussed the problems.
As for the textile and garment industry, I think we do have another group working on this issue and we should let it continue discussing the problem. There is of course another factor in this aspect. Even if we do not import labour, will the labour size in Hong Kong be reduced from 100 000 to 90 000 and even to 80 000 due to a competitiveness issue? For the sake of the overall interests both of labour and the society, these problems should also be looked into. I think it is most important to let the two groups study these problems and for them to come up with some findings.
The most important point on which I have always stressed is that we will not affect the existing job opportunities of workers in Hong Kong. This is the most important system.
MR CHENG YIU-TONG (in Cantonese): I would like to follow up. Mr TUNG has said that the priority in employment will be given to local workers which is a policy I welcome, especially when it is put down as a firm measure in the Policy Address. However, how can he ensure that local workers will be given the priority in employment? Mr TUNG, what measures do you have to safeguard that local workers have such a priority? Because there are loopholes in the present practice which the Honourable Mrs Elsie TU has mentioned just now: an employer will hire a local worker as if a priority has been given him, but he will then fire the worker after two days and complains that he cannot find workers. Are there measures to stop such abuse, including penalizing the employers?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I find the system of importing labour in the airport project quite remarkable. If certain employers violate the laws, they of course have to be penalized. This is very clear.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr Raymond HO.
DR RAYMOND HO (in Cantonese): Madam President, there are many parts in the Policy Address presented by Mr TUNG yesterday which I am glad to hear, they include the devotion of major efforts to developing strategic regions such as Tseung Kwan O, North Lantau, Tung Chung and Tai Ho, because I myself have also once put forward proposal to develop North Lantau in order to accommodate a population of one million. However, in the whole report presented yesterday, a lot of large-scale infrastructure projects were mentioned but devoid of a timetable, we do not know when they will be carried out. Myriads of infrastructure have to be built to cope with the growth of 1.8 million population in the coming 15 years. But past experiences have shown us that if projects are proposed without a timetable, they may not be realized even after 10 or 20 years. When can Mr TUNG tell us the exact timetable of the projects?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Dr HO, some projects do have timetables which have already been confirmed and are all set for implementation. As for others, such as the passenger railway between Ma On Shan and Tai Wai, no timetable has been scheduled yet. However, the Government will decide by the end of this year whether that railway will be built or not. Planning of other projects are already underway and I hope that reports can be made on them after a certain period of time. Plans will be carried out after consideration of problems such as whether our financial situation can cope with these projects, the growth of population and the priority with which certain strategic lands have to be developed earlier. All these will gradually be explained.
DR RAYMOND HO (in Cantonese): Madam President, I have read this leaflet of the Transport Bureau and found that many projects are devoid of a timetable, but many of them are very important projects, such as the East Kowloon Line and the future development around Kai Tak Airport. At the same time, in order to expedite the completion of the large-scale projects, will Mr TUNG consider encouraging more companies of the private sector to participate in these projects through arrangements such as the Build Operate-Transfer (BOT)?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I think we can of course use the BOT arrangement in some projects. Take the cases of the trains and the Mass Transit Railway, operation is already being undertaken by a number of companies, I believe their efficiencies should be very high and they should work fast. As for other projects, such as Route 3, there is participation from the private sector and this will of course continue in the future.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr NGAU Shiu-kit.
MR NGAU SHIU-KIT (in Cantonese): Madam President, the Chief Executive has listed a number of targets in the Policy Address which involve enormous expenditure. In the past, the Hong Kong Government assessed the efficiency of public spending by "value for money", and ensures the quality of government departments' services by "performance pledge". Will the Government maintain this practice? Or will there be better ways to enhance the mechanism in this aspect and to supervise the such work? I have another supplementary question which, if the Chief Executive thinks it is not within the scope of today's questions, can have its answer reserved for another occasion. The question is: in the World Economic Forum next week, how will you promote a good image for Hong Kong? How will you go about promoting the good image of Hong Kong? Since a lot of people have already painted a bad image for our community, how will you go about doing the contrary? If you feel that this question has gone beyond today's scope of discussion, you can talk about it briefly afterwards.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I believe it would be very easy to promote the good image of Hong Kong, just take a look at the facts and you will see it is not difficult to do so. With regard to the first question you raised, the mechanism which the Government has all along been using as an indicator and assessment of its rate of success in its operation will definitely be maintained. This is a very good thing to do. You may also be aware that, in the quest for perfection and improvement, the Finance Bureau has now started a cost-basis method to further assess the work of the structure of Government.
PRESIDENT(in Cantonese): Mrs Peggy LAM.
MRS PEGGY LAM (in Cantonese): Mr TUNG, first of all, I would like to extend my thanks to you on behalf of half of Hong Kong's population
─ over 3 million women ─ since you have allocated one paragraph in the Policy Address on women. I have counted the paragraph and it amounts to 51 Chinese characters, which is better than none. The paragraph is based on a submission concerning policy for women presented to the Chief Executive by the women community. We are grateful you mention that the women of Hong Kong make a most significant contribution to the prosperity and progress of our community, and that the Administration will always be concerned about the interests of women. However, in our submission, we have brought up several points and express the hope that the Chief Executive will not only be concerned, but will also offer certain services to be undertaken by the Government, such as offering help to women at risk, divorced women, single mothers and battered wives. While the welfare for the elderly has been mentioned earlier on, there are still a lot of areas that have remained untouched. What are Mr TUNG's views on our opinions? I should like to hear about them.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I believe that, basically, equality has been well developed between man and woman in Hong Kong, and it will definitely be maintained. In fact, the achievements of women in the Hong Kong society are very outstanding and we are proud of them. With regard to the question you raised, we will certainly pay close attention to it and follow up with work in this aspect.
MRS PEGGY LAM(in Cantonese): I have a supplementary question, Madam President.
Can the Chief Executive promise to give an undertaking for women services? It is not enough to merely pay close attention to the services. Can he make a pledge as regards subvention to such services? Because some of the present services are provided by charitable institutions without any subsidy from the Government. For example, the Harmony House offers shelter for battered wives but the Government has not assisted it financially. Can the Government offer subsidies to such services?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I would like to make further studies, alright?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr James TIEN.
MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): Madam President. Mr Chief Executive, in the Policy Address you presented yesterday, you talked a lot about the direction of economic development, the increase of added value and the promotion of productivity to which I agree very much.
However, the focus of my question is on the current level of exchange rate and the recent so-called "devaluation" of the Southeast Asian currencies. For example, the Indonesian currency has fallen by 48% since June, the Thai currency, 43% and the Philippine currency, 34%, and even the Singaporean currency has fallen by 8%. As for competitiveness, I believe the Chief Executive also understands it clearly that the world is very small, it serves no purpose if we just say that our competitiveness has increased as compared with that of last year because we are actually competing with others. Yesterday you proposed many measures concerning tourism, small and medium enterprises, the second industrial technology centre and industrial estates, all of which I support very much. However, under such a premise, has the Government made an evaluation on the recent position of the other Southeast Asian currencies? I believe there will not be much changes within a short period of time. In this five-year plan, if the whole world thinks our prices are too high while we keep on believing that we are perfectly fine and outstanding, what will be the consequences? I would like to add one more point, I support absolutely Hong Kong's currency peg with the US dollar. Since there will be no change on the peg, has the Government of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) thought about how to deal with this problem?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Hong Kong's currency peg with the US dollar has achieved marked effect in Hong Kong for the past 14 years, I think this will not be changed.
Under such a premise, we witness the devaluation of Southeast Asian currencies and certainly, its effect on us in various areas, such as tourism. As for exports, since currencies of these countries have devalued so much, their competitiveness would of course be much enhanced. Products exported from the Mainland bear a competitive edge with those of Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, and since a large part of the products are exported through Hong Kong, we may also be affected. Although we do not see the impact at this moment, I believe there will definitely be some. How great will the impact be? We are lucky that our businesses are more on the services side, so up to now I do not see a very serious impact.
I think that we should not, and need not, devalue our own currency, and there is no such possibility. Secondly, we do not want to push down the wages of the whole society in order to compete with them.
The only route to take, just as what I said, is to develop high value-added industries. While we should make good use of our special and advantageous geographical location, we are now "one country" with our own mother country and there is a lot we can do because the reunification has made us a powerful source and put us in a special position. Furthermore, if we take the route of developing high value-added industries, we do not need to worry too much about this aspect.
I understand this is not a route which if taken will bring us success immediately tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. However, we have in fact been following this route for the last few years. I hope that, after highlighting it, we will have a clearer focus to work on. I do believe this is the right route.
MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): Madam President, I have a supplementary question.
I very much agree with the Chief Executive that the situation will improve in four or five years' time. But at present we can see that once tourism is at a low ebb, many trades such as catering, retailing and taxis all suffer the blow. Many people have their income calculated on commission rather than having basic wages, as a result, their income is much reduced. In the manufacturing industry, when we accept orders for next January and February, the buyers complained that the prices in Hong Kong has been raised ─ there is in fact a price increase of 2% plus a 6% inflation. Other Southeast Asian countries, however, are reducing their prices. Naturally, they go elsewhere for the goods and I think the manufacturing industry will be affected both this year and in the coming year. I therefore hope that the Chief Executive and the SAR Government will pay attention to short-term problems and make sure that we can catch up in four or five years' time, for in the short terms, it will be impossible for us to enhance productivity and competitiveness, the tourists are not coming for the time being, and the number of export orders have fallen a great deal.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Within a short period, it is certain that these problems will emerge and are worthy of our attention. As for tourism, less and less tourists are coming from Japan, which has another reason, and tourists from the Mainland are also decreasing, so we have to work hard in this area. In fact you are right to say that the devaluation of Southeast Asian currencies has cast an impact on Hong Kong, but fortunately, if we look at it comprehensively, presumably the impact will not be too great for the moment. For individual industry, such as the manufacturing industry, and for your manufacturing industry, there will be a certain impact. That I fully understand. (Laughter)
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr IP Kwok-him.
MR IP KWOK-HIM (in Cantonese): Madam President. Mr TUNG, a considerable part of the Policy Address is dedicated to the measures and increase of social services. However, recently, we have heard that some fresh graduates in Social Work are unable to find a job and there is quite a lot of them, resulting in a situation of frustrated job hunting and unemployment. Has the Government made a mistake in its past planning in the course of increasing social welfare and services? If this is the case, Mr TUNG has not mentioned about it in the Policy Address. As to how to strike a balance between the number of Social Work graduates and the demand of the society, what is your view?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): The demand for social workers will increase in times to come. In fact, there are a lot of things we want to do. I have also said just now that $200 million will be used in each fiscal year and the new measures in future may draw on $200 million more. This figure will always be on the increase. Therefore, I believe that the present problem is only a transient one.
MR IP KWOK-HIM (in Cantonese): Mr TUNG, you say this is a transient problem, but at the present stage, such graduates will be turned out every year. In you present plan, will there be enough posts for these graduates in the future?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr IP, I am unable to answer your question right now. I hope our colleagues in the Government will follow up and give you an answer. Sorry.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr LEONG Che-hung.
DR LEONG CHE-HUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President. Mr TUNG, in the Policy Address you presented yesterday, you mentioned, or praised, the achievements of Hong Kong's health care and the commitment of its professionals, we are also very proud of these. In fact, there is another good thing about Hong Kong, our medical policy states that no one will be deprived of medical care due to the lack of resources. This is of course done through a heavily subvented public health care service. However, there is one negative effect in doing so, that is, limited resources are to provide for limitless services. In yesterday's Policy Address, you said that there will be a comprehensive review of the health care system, I am absolutely glad to hear that and that is a response we have been waiting for 20 years. You have also mentioned that you hope to review how patients and the community can best share our health care costs. Does Mr TUNG want to introduce the principles of "user pays" and "the more one uses, the more one pays" into the present Government policy, while at the same time maintaining the policy that no one will be deprived of medical care due to the lack of resources? I myself support this point very much. If Mr TUNG really intends to do so, I believe it will be very beneficial the future development of Hong Kong's health care system. Does Mr TUNG has any plan to make people aware that this new policy will be conducive to the development of health care and that the Government is not shirking its responsibility?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I think that if a person is really in lack of the means, the Government will definitely help him and satisfy his demands for health care. This is the existing policy which will not be changed even in the future. However, if a person has the means, I think it is a very appropriate thing for him to pay a little more. But in fact we cannot just look at this part of the entire health care system, there are many other aspects that we have to review. I hope the review can be completed within next year and then we will sit down and discuss it in detail.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr WONG Siu-yee.
MR WONG SIU-YEE (in Cantonese): Mr TUNG, you advocate "care for the elderly" and hope that we can provide the elderly with "a sense of security, a sense of belonging and a feeling of health and worthiness". While I fully support and agree with what you said, I think that the Government is relatively conservative and has not done enough in the aspect of providing "a feeling of worthiness". It seems that the Government has restricted this to encouraging the elderly to do unpaid voluntary work, or has placed the elderly in a passive position where they are being patronized, where they only take and receive.
I have once proposed the plan for a "Senior Citizen's Paradise" in which one of the most important concepts is to uncover a long-neglected source of manpower and to provide various paid jobs for the elderly so that they can give full play to their potentials.
Can the Government tell me that it will have a more innovative and exploratory policy of providing the elderly with "a feeling of worthiness"?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr WONG, we did intend to encourage the elderly who are physically fit to take on the role of volunteers and I believe many of them would be happy to do so.
As to the new question you raise, I have actually looked into it and I think we will study it further. Our motive was very clear and it was to let the elderly serve as volunteers, I think they would also be happy to have the opportunity to serve as volunteers. However, we will do some studies and I have already put your proposal on record.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss CHAN Yuen-han.
MR CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Madam President, I would like to talk about the workers' standard of living. In the Policy Address yesterday, Mr TUNG said that local workers would be given priority in employment. But the response we received is that the workers are not quite convinced of this assurance. I am sure that when Mr TUNG came into this Chamber, he would have met some construction workers who petitioned to him. This is because the workers can see from previous government policies that despite the Government's reiteration that local workers would be given priority, implementation of policies has been at times strict and at times loose, which led to the current situation in Hong Kong.
For the retail trade, the starting salary for employees in 1989 was $7,000, but now it is just over $4,000. In 1989, a watchman in his sixties earned around $5,000 to $6,000 a month. Now, a watchman in his forties can only earn around $4,000 to $5,000. For other trades, I am not going to count them out one by one. In a nutshell, Hong Kong people, especially the employees, are worse off. It is obvious that the number of people below the poverty line is getting beyond 800 000. Now the Government states that we may need to import labour because of labour shortage for some categories of labour. Subsequent to the announcement of this policy, I can see that the grass-roots workers are worried. If we are quite better off and need not worry about the unemployment problem, whether or not this policy will be implemented is of less importance. However, it is not the case now. In view of our wage levels and condition of living, coupled with an increasing number of poor people, there is no justification for importing labour.
So, I hope that Mr TUNG can provide us with a criterion. On the one hand, you emphasize that priority will be given to local workers, but under what circumstances will labour be imported? I think the criterion must be clear and specific. The present situation is that there are arguments on both sides, contradicting each other; some people are unemployed while some claim that there are jobs that cannot be filled. Apart from that, many government policies are very vague. I have observed how the Government handled this problem in the past. For the airport project, for example, the Government had heated arguments with us that labour should be imported. What were the consequences after the importation? Problems relating to imported workers such as deduction of wages frequently occurred. A few years ago, this Council had conducted an ad hoc inquiry on similar cases. A lot of problems which were coincident with our previous warnings have been identified. Today, we are facing a target of building 85 000 flats and other infrastructure projects. I do not want to see a recurrence of these problems.
So, I would like to ask Mr TUNG: How can you ensure local workers that they can share the fruits of prosperity and really get the jobs? This is my concern and I hope Mr TUNG can answer my question.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I would like to tackle Miss CHAN's question from two aspects. The figures she quoted are our concern and we do know about these figures. Why do these cases occur? Basically this is because our economic transformation in recent years has come about rather rapidly. At the same time, we might be inadequately prepared, consequently, some workers were underemployed even though they managed to find the jobs; or the surplus of workers in a particular job has caused wages to go down. Another reason is the increasing number of new immigrants that has also led to the scenarios that Miss CHAN described. Further, we do not have pension or retirement fund schemes for the elderly yet. Under such circumstances, some people could become worried about their future.
We have to look at these problems from both the long-term and the short-term perspectives. For the long-term, I hope everyone of us will agree to the point I have made that Hong Kong has to develop high value-added industries and services. We also have to put in more investments in education so that our next generation will have a bright future. If we cannot attain this objective of ours, the problems will be even worse. As a Member mentioned just now, Indonesia currency has been devalued by 40% and Thai baht has also been devalued by the same percentage. It is difficult for us to compete with them. So we have to take the route to high value-added qualities, which will help solve the poverty problem in our society in the long term. This is a long way that may take us five or seven or even ten years. We will only see the effect in the long term, but I trust that our society is determined to do that.
Another problem is how to face up to the present. What are we to do with now? In my opinion, the only thing we can do at present is to do better on the training or retraining of employees. If the Government or the Employees Retraining Board is not doing good enough, we will follow up and try to do better. Some people did tell me that they were out of job or under-employed. But there are others who told me that they could not find workers. There is some mismatch in the job market and we have to put in more efforts to rectify it.
On the whole, if those unemployed can obtain employment after retraining, the problem will naturally be solved. On the contrary, if there are vacancies that cannot be filled, it will cast an impact on our economy and future development. If the target of building 85 000 units a year cannot be attained, then things may go wrong. Therefore, we must see to it that there is good co-ordination in all aspects in order to avoid the above situation, and ensure that those who are willing and capable to work can find employment after training.
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): I would like to ask a simple follow-up question. As the Chief Executive mentioned yesterday, there is a prevalent mentality among some Hong Kong people to make a fast buck. At present we have tense employer-employee relations are tense and many people are eager to import labour. I think these two are related to such mentality. So, when the Government reviews this policy, there is a lot to be done. I agree to what Mr TUNG said. But the specific question is whether the Government is fully capable, within the present framework, to help those displaced workers adjust to the transformation. In my opinion, the Government is not capable to do so. Even though groups are specially deployed to solve this problem, I think it is still inadequate. For instance, some jobs are unfilled. Do we have a database showing how many workers are needed? The Government has failed to provide us with such a database. The general situation is that we rely on the free market mechanism. But after we have imported workers, our wage mechanism is shattered. There is no such mechanism in the Government to tackle this problem. As a result, we feel that the Government only listens to one side of the story as the former Government did. We hope the present Government would not do likewise. Once workers are imported, our present demand-supply mechanism will be shattered. Does the Government have any mechanism to prevent this? The answer is "No". Measures adopted by the Government are inadequate. We asked the Government whether the present mechanism could be upgraded. For example, we do need a database and follow up for the Job Matching Programme. We should never allow cases where people are employed for one day and dismissed to occur without follow up. Take for example the construction industry, can a monthly wage system be adopted? These mechanisms deserve our consideration.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss CHAN, can you be brief? I am sorry, because many Members are waiting for their turn.
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): I hope Mr TUNG can understand our situation. We in the labour sector are not being outrageous and unreasonable. But when we find it hard to earn a living, we will have such a feeling and have high expectation for "employment".
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Concerning the issues raised by Miss CHAN, I have quite grasped your situation after having some conversations with you. We will follow up. This is really our greatest challenge ahead.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Honourable Members, there are 14 Members on my list. I would like to request the Chief Executive not to leave at 4 pm so that we can ask more questions. Would Members please be co-operative as well and be as brief as possible and come to your questions immediately. Mr CHAN Choi-hi.
MR CHAN CHOI-HI (in Cantonese): Madam President, I wrote to Mr TUNG last month in the hope that there would be a Chief Executive Charter, which is equivalent to a performance pledge, in his first Policy Address. But he has not seen to have done so. The first question I would like to ask is that: Why has a Charter as I have suggested not been included; the second question: Will there be a Charter in the coming Policy Address?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I have actually received Mr CHAN's letter and considered his suggestion. In the Policy Address published yesterday, I have clearly outlined my work in the future and showed my accountability as the Chief Executive to the Honourable Members and members of the public. In fact, during my inauguration on 1 July, I was sworn in to be responsible to the whole Special Administrative Region Government and I will be resolute on my promises. After having considered Mr CHAN's suggestion, I do not think it is necessary to make a supplementary Chief Executive Charter.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr CHENG Kai-nam.
MR CHENG KAI-NAM (in Cantonese): Madam President, last week, one of my assistants registered to get married, but will have to wait until next year for a "consummation of the marriage" because he does not have the means to buy a flat yet. After listening to the Chief Executive's Policy Address yesterday, he, like many other people who are eager to buy flats, still cannot make up his mind and is worried. I am not asking the Chief Executive to tell us whether we should buy flats now. But what kind of advice can he give to these people?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): The Chief Executive has to serve as a marriage counsellor now. (Laughter)
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr CHENG, I made a remark in January that people should not be too hasty in buying flats. After I have made that remark, property prices escalated a great deal. I regret that I have made that remark and I really feel regretful about that. I think what the Government can do is to try its best to provide more flats and more land so that property prices can be stabilized. The question as to whether Mr CHENG's assistant should buy a flat surely depends on his personal needs. (Laughter)
MR CHENG KAI-NAM (in Cantonese): A follow-up question. The Chief Executive in his Policy Address said that we all are very concerned about the target of building 85 000 flats, among which 36 000 are private residential flats. We clearly understand that the Government is determined to provide the guaranteed number of public rental housing flats and the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats. A moment ago we were given a brief report by the Secretary. But I still cannot see what measures can be taken to ensure that the target of private flats can be attained. If labour shortage and construction costs will affect the prices, why not construct more HOS flats? Because this will not affect the demand and supply mechanism. If there is labour shortage, then both HOS flats and private flats will likewise be affected. That being the case, why not build more HOS flats which are guaranteed by the Government?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): The production of 36 000 private flats certainly depends on the land supply. There are two sources of land supply. The first is land granted by the Government which is subject to time constraint. The developers are required to complete the construction within a specified period and sell the flats in the market. Another source of land supply is agricultural land or land with modified use in which approval from relevant departments is needed. For these kinds of land, the developers can start building on it immediately, but they can also postpone or even halt the construction. So, there are two aspects for the private flats. The Government will continue to grant more land in order to ensure that 36 000 flats can be built as planned. Regarding the ratio of 50 000 HOS flats to 36 000 private flats, the ratio can be changed whenever necessary. I really hope that the target in the private sector can be achieved. We have a lot of measures in hand to ensure that the target of 36 000 flats can be attained.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr Howard YOUNG.
MR HOWARD YOUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, I very much welcome and support the importance which Mr TUNG attached to the travel and tourism industry in the Policy Address yesterday, the seriousness with which he viewed the recent decline in the number of travellers, his promise that the Government would continue to make investment in tourism facilities and the loan of $100 million made to the Hong Kong Tourist Association. I am confident that the tourism industry will be benefited from these arrangements in the interim as well as in the long run. But the problem now encountered by the tourism industry is how to "rescue the industry" in the short term.
To "rescue the industry" in the short term, I think there are three measures we can take. First, as the Chief Executive said yesterday, the industry needs to examine the price structures. Next Tuesday, the Hong Kong Tourist Association will hold a meeting to examine this issue. Meanwhile, the Government can do two things: first, it should subsidize the production of some short-term strategic Announcement of Public Interest (API) to promote "a good image" for Hong Kong. The Financial Secretary may have to earmark some supplementary appropriations for this purpose because we cannot wait until next year. The second thing is a measure which the Government can carry out right now and no resource is needed for its implementation, and that is to relax the visa issuance procedures for incoming travellers. Taiwan is the second largest market for the Hong Kong tourist trade. Over 10% of our total number of tourists come from Taiwan. However, they need to have entry permits before coming to Hong Kong. Can the Government consider doing something as regards the above two measures: to make appropriations and to relax visa issuance formalities?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): The recent decline in the number of incoming travellers has been our concern. At present, the most effective rescue operation is for the industry itself to review the prices (Laughter) because this will be as effective as hitting the nail on the head. For other aspects, we can take follow-up actions and in particular, we will examine Mr YOUNG's suggestion of streamlining the visa procedures.
MR HOWARD YOUNG (in Cantonese): A follow-up question. A moment ago, I have mentioned that the Hong Kong Tourist Association will hold a meeting and examine the price structures on Tuesday. I believe they will echo the Chief Executive's appeal. (Laughter) But I would like to provide the Chief Executive with one fact for his reference. Regarding visas for the Taiwanese, the Chief Executive might think that this could have gone beyond the autonomous powers of the SAR Government. If he needs to discuss this issue with the Central Government, I can highlight two points for his reference. First, the Taiwanese can enjoy visa-free entry to Macau; second, compatriots in the Mainland holding valid Taiwan entry permits can enjoy seven days visa-free transit in Hong Kong en route to Taiwan. So at least we can consider to grant Taiwanese compatriots holding valid documents issued by the Chinese authorities en route to the Mainland a visa-free transit in Hong Kong.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Thank you, Mr YOUNG.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Professor NG Ching-fai.
PROF NG CHING-FAI (in Cantonese): Madam President, yesterday we are much impressed by the Chief Executive's emphasis on upgrading the education quality in Hong Kong and the determination in his commitment shown in the Policy Address. Apart from that, the Policy Address also mentioned that a lot of resources will be allocated to support basic education. This point has won support from the basic as well as the tertiary education sectors.
Turning to tertiary education, the Chief Executive expected the tertiary institutions to strive for excellence and promised to invest in state-of-the-art facilities. We have noted this point and many front-line workers are very happy with his remarks. Does the Chief Executive mean that his previous assertion to reduce expenditure would no longer apply now? Since we are unable to strive for excellence with a reduced budget.
Could the Chief Executive please answer my question.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): The tertiary sector has now entered a period of consolidation following its rapid expansion in the early 1990s. Although the expenditure will be reduced by 10%, so to speak, the actual figure, to me, does not seem so great. After Professor NG mentioned this point to me on an previous occasion, I have checked over the figures.
The most important task facing us now is to run basic education well so that students will be of high calibre when moving on to the university and be benefited more from university education. The universities may encounter some difficulties when trying to enhance efficiency in this consolidation period. But this is only a short-term situation. Our target is to ensure that Hong Kong will become the most prominent education centre in Asia. Our universities will certainly complement our target in the future. At present, our policy will not be changed.
PROF NG CHING-FAI (in Cantonese): I would like to raise a brief follow-up question. The Chief Executive mentioned the word "expansion" just now. In fact, the tertiary sector has put in a lot of diligence and efforts to meet the Government's request of an 18% growth in the sector. This is not self-expansion. If there is a reduction in the level of funds, it will certainly deal a blow to the morale of front-line workers. Could the Chief Executive re-consider this point and try to minimize the adverse impact?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Professor NG, we will follow up and study this point. I hope Professor NG, as a Councillor and a front-line educationalist, would not suffer from a sinking morale (Laughter) and would instead lead others to strive for our target. A reduction in funds is only a short-term measure, we ought to be far-sighted.
PROF NG CHING-FAI (in Cantonese): I am far-sighted enough. (Laughter)
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr YUEN Mo.
MR YUEN MO (in Cantonese): Madam President, Hong Kong has been one of the major shipping centres in the world. Undeniably, we now have to face strong competitions from our neighbours in the region and direct traffic between the two shores. How can we maintain Hong Kong's status as a leading shipping centre after our reunification with China? In the Policy Address, there is no mention of the shipping sector. What is the reason for this? Is it an evasion from any possible suspicion? How can we maintain Hong Kong's status as a major shipping centre?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I really have not thought about this issue. (Laughter) People in the shipping sector often create their world with their own hands (Laughter), I am sure they will upkeep their efforts (Laughter).
In fact, I have noticed that Hong Kong's competitive edge had begun to decline since I started working in the shipping sector. If measure is not taken, it will suffer a heavy blow in the long term. So, I think we should be far-sighted and find out the long-term remedy. In view of our present cost structure, Hong Kong will lose to our competitors in the future and this is indeed worrying.
Hong Kong, as a shipowners' centre, has about 50 to 60 million tonnages of ships which are still under the control of our shipowners. Ship registration in Hong Kong has brought us a new momentum, but at the same time, have also suffered a blow when some shipowners registered their ships elsewhere because of the pre-handover uncertainties. In this aspect, I think we need a basis to attract the shipowners back to Hong Kong by convincing them that Hong Kong is a good registration place for their ships. I think we can do a good job on this. Regarding the operational costs in our harbour, we should sit down and think how to maintain our competitive edge. At present, I am unable to answer this question.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LO Suk-ching.
MR LO SUK-CHING (in Cantonese): Can the Chief Executive introduce to us the functions, powers and the targets of the commission on strategic development which will be chaired by him? Will the tasks and plans of the commission be arranged in the order of priorities?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr LO, the commission on strategic development is basically an advisory body. Through this commission, I hope we can absorb more views from various sectors of the community concerning the outlook on Hong Kong's future development, population, land supply and environmental protection and so on. We will also try to absorb as much opinions as possible concerning the port issue, co-operation and development with the Mainland authorities so that my Administration and I can push ahead our plans in various areas.
MR LO SUK-CHING (in Cantonese): I wish to make a little follow up. Will the commission accord any priority for the development strategy for the entire New Territories, especially those undeveloped areas, such as the outlying islands and Sai Kung, because all future development in respect of population growth, housing and so on will be focused in the New Territories?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): We will certainly listen to advice in this aspect.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr LAW Cheung-kwok.
DR LAW CHEUNG-KWOK (in Cantonese): Madam President, in his Policy Address, Mr TUNG commended the Consumer Council for their good work. Every year the Consumer Council has funds amounting to tens of millions of dollars at its disposal and over one hundred staff to serve the 6.5 million Hong Kong people. Will the Chief Executive consider substantially increasing the amount of money earmarked for the Consumer Council substantially? A related question: In order to promote a healthy competitive environment for Hong Kong, the Consumer Council has recommended that the Government should comprehensively enact legislation on fair competition. The Chief Executive once said that he would need more time before giving a full response. Can he give us a partial response to the Consumer Council's recommendation today?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): On the matter of expenditure for the Consumer Council, it stands at about $58 million a year. There is a stringent control on the funds of the whole government structure. We will follow this principle and will not make any substantial increase. In case there is a need, I think some increases should be made.
Regarding the second question, I understand that we are examining it now. I cannot give Dr LAW a partial reply because I am indeed waiting for the report. You have my apology for that.
DR LAW CHEUNG-KWOK (in Cantonese): May I follow up a little. Will the Chief Executive visit the Consumer Council shortly in order to have a better understanding of their work?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I will try to arrange my time for that. In fact I want to visit many places. For example, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, I have no opportunity to visit it so far. I told Mrs YAM that I would be going there and I am trying to find time for that. I think I also will visit the Consumer Council as soon as possible.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LAU Kong-wah.
MR LAU KONG-WAH (in Cantonese): Madam President, many ambitious plans have been outlined by the Chief Executive in his Policy Address. The ten-year housing programme is the most headline-catching. I have no doubt that the Chief Executive has the sincerity to attain the objective. Many Governors in the past were also in all sincerity to achieve the objective but eventually all failed. Surely, there are definite expectations on the part of the citizens. At present, the Chief Executive may have the determination to carry out the project but the public may not have confidence in that. Perhaps Mr TUNG feels that there are many factors that would affect the outcome of his plan. What is the most crucial factor? What will the Government do in order to accomplish this target?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): I believe that confidence needs to be built up gradually. We will show our ability to achieve the target with the result. I am very confident that we can attain this objective and my colleagues in the Administration are also determined to attain this objective.
Regarding Mr LAU's question as to which area is the most challenging one, in fact, we have challenges on all fronts. For example, we have to speed up the approval process; we have to streamline the consultation process and we want to shorten the timetable. There are problems in the infrastructure projects, too, even the consultation will have taken us a long time. In fact, there are worries in different areas. Despite all these difficulties, when the Government considers the feasibility of various projects, it considers the number of buildings that can be produced on each and every piece of land that has been granted. All difficulties have been taken into account and we are, therefore, quite confident that we can attain our objective.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr KAN Fook-yee.
MR KAN FOOK-YEE (in Cantonese): Madam President, in paragraph 68 of the Policy Address, the Chief Executive said that he would set up an Urban Renewal Authority. I find this a very good idea and fully support it. However, when we look at the wording in that paragraph, it seems that the Chief Executive is not too clear about the aim of setting up the Authority. For example, it only mentioned that the Authority would be given adequate powers to carry out land resumption. In my opinion, that the Urban Renewal Authority, as its name tells, should have effective resumption powers is only a means rather than an objective. The next paragraph introduced legislation that would be enacted in future. I would like to raise three points for the consideration of Mr TUNG and the officials when new legislation is enacted. First, I think this Authority should target at dangerous structures, such as the hillside squatters, which should come within its terms of reference. Secondly, the Authority should have the powers to remove for reconstruction some structures which do not match the surrounding environment, whether doing it in the same streets or by merging a number of streets. The third point is a rather macroscopic one. The Urban Renewal Authority should be vested with the powers to re-distribute land resources in our society. Thank you.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr KAN, your points are very good and I will take note of them. In fact, this is an urgent task. As I said yesterday, houses built over 30 years will account for 40% of private housing over the next decade. We are pushing ahead this task urgently. You have raised very good suggestions.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LEE Kai-ming.
MR KAN FOOK-YEE (in Cantonese): I have one more point to raise. May I do so, Madam President?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Please be quick, because there are five or six Members waiting for their turn. Mr TUNG has already given us 15 minutes more.
MR KAN FOOK-YEE (in Cantonese): I have just talked about the re-distribution of resources just now. Take an example of the industrial areas, the old industrial areas are now more suitable to be put into residential use. This also should come within the terms of reference of the Urban Renewal Authority.
MR LEE KAI-MING (in Cantonese): Mr TUNG, the current unemployment rate in Hong Kong is 2.4%. Government officials and the commercial sector told us that in foreign countries, an unemployment rate of 2.4% is equivalent to zero unemployment. But we should note that in foreign countries, people unemployed can enjoy a lot of protection like social security and unemployment assistance and so on. Can Mr TUNG tell us whether he will likewise set up unemployment assistance and protection in Hong Kong so that we can be comparable with our overseas counterparts?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Our community has long been served by a tradition of good relations between labour and management and our workers have made a lot of contributions to our economic success. Yesterday I emphasized this point and I am not making this remark casually. I think labour and management have created an atmosphere under which there is a high degree of flexibility in the labour market enabling the whole economy to attain such a growth. As for the future, if our enterprises develop high value-added activities, a lot of changes will lie ahead of us and we have to study it as a whole. Yesterday I just highlighted this important issue. After having this issue highlighted, there will be a lot of consequential cases emerging. I think I will have to look into this issue before answering Mr LEE's question.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs Sophie LEUNG.
MRS SOPHIE LEUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President. Mr TUNG, I would like to ask a question about image. In the Policy Address delivered yesterday, a lot of forward-looking infrastructure projects and some ten-year plans have been outlined. My colleagues are generally in support of these and I think the community also support them. However, it will need a great deal of human and financial resources in the construction of the infrastructure, the improvement of welfare and people's livelihood. In respect of economic development, especially the manufacturing industries, a lot of suggestions have been raised. We fully support them, in particular those related to certain traditional manufacturing industries, like the textile and clothing industry, which are also mentioned by Mr TUNG in his Policy Address. We are greatly encouraged by this for we have been given to understand the way ahead. But we have a problem of image. As a colleague said, there had been 300 000 to 400 000 manufacturing workers in Hong Kong but now the figure has dwindled to around 100 000. In fact, we have kept training workers who are, however, absorbed by other trades. In the 1960's and 1970's, the textile and clothing industry was a major industry, but then ......
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs LEUNG, could you confine your remarks to the question?
MRS SOPHIE LEUNG (in Cantonese): ...... then there was a serious problem of brain drain. Many people abandoned their original trades and shifted to the services sector when it started to prosper. Employees previously working in trades which suffered serious brain drain problem joined the services sector, while employees previously working in trades which suffered less serious brain drain problem rather switched to the property sector or retail sector also. How can we attract new blood into our industry? Can we, like the tourism industry represented by the Honourable Howard YOUNG, ask the Government to produce some APIs to promote the importance of the manufacturing industry? Now, a down-to-earth approach is very important to Hong Kong. We do not want to hear criticism from the labour sector that we are again going to import labour either. In this respect, I would like to seek the Chief Executive's advice. Regarding the mismatch of demand and supply of labour, both the labour sector and those who are responsible for co-ordination of manpower will surely find out a solution together.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): There are 100 000 workers still in the textile and clothing industry. In fact, they are very important to Hong Kong, in particular the clothing industry, because the garment industry has made a lot of achievements. I think Members are all aware that the problem arises from a decline in competitiveness, especially in the wake of the recent currency devaluation of other countries. I think it is better for you to try to co-operate with the labour sector and find out a better solution. We will do whatever we can, as we have always said.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr TANG Siu-tong.
DR TANG SIU-TONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, I welcome Mr TUNG's remark yesterday that the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) Schemes would be implemented in 1998. However, the effectiveness of the schemes can only be seen in the long term and those soon retiring will not be benefited. My question is: What will the Government do in order to take care of those who will soon retire but will not be benefited from the MPF to be set up by the Government?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Mr TANG, this is a disturbing question. So, I first hope that the Provisional Legislative Council can endorse the MPF without delay so that the authorities concerned can start operation shortly. As various retirement schemes have been debated for years, we should deal with this issue quickly because time flies and every year counts.
It is true that the effectiveness of MPF can only be seen in the long term. At present, we have a safety net though, the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), on which Members have expressed a lot of opinions. That's why I said earlier that the whole scheme has to be subject to review in order to see what we should do. I do not have a very satisfactory answer. But I think we must take the first step and the most crucial thing is to establish the MPF as soon as possible.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr TUNG, six Members have raised their hands but you have already given us 20 minutes more. Would you allow two more questions from the Members?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Yes, two more questions please. (Laughter)
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I will call upon the Members in order. Should Members want their colleagues to have a chance to raise questions, they can give up their own chance. It is Mr CHAN Wing-chan's turn now.
MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): Thank you. This would be a lucky question (Laughter). After hearing Mr TUNG's Policy Address yesterday, I appreciated and agreed to some paragraphs contained in it, like paragraphs saying that more resources would be earmarked for enhancing the quality of education. Although I do not represent the education sector, I do understand that the enhancement of education quality is the key to the development of Hong Kong. I am especially glad that, as the Government has pointed out in the Policy Address, Hong Kong has sufficient reserves and can afford to spend a little more "loosely".
There are still many poor people in Hong Kong. However, in the Policy Address, there is no mention of how to "get rid of poverty". Does Mr TUNG think that the poverty problem no longer exists in Hong Kong? Thank you.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): As a matter of fact, I have mentioned how to "get rid of poverty" in my Policy Address. I have pointed out that the means to solve the poverty problem was to develop high value-added industries and services. This would be a long way and I think at present this problem does exist.
MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): A simple follow-up question. Recently, a survey revealed that the number of people in poverty has aroused public concern. Will Mr TUNG follow up this issue and help these people to "get rid of poverty"? Please tell us what measures will be taken. Thank you.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): The definition of poverty is rather controversial. However, I believe that there is really a group of people living below the poverty line. In my opinion, the crucial thing is that the Government is able to maintain economic growth in Hong Kong. It is only when our economy keeps on growing that employment opportunities can be improved.
Just now Mr CHAN has raised a problem which is his concern. This is also the Government's concern. But we are unable to draw any conclusion on this issue just today or tomorrow.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss CHOY So-yuk.
MISS CHOY SO-YUK (in Cantonese): Thank you, Madam President. I am glad that I am the last one.
Mr TUNG, we applaud the Government for an allocation of a great lands for number housing development within the next few years. We also applaud the Government for its promise to launch a loan scheme for 30 000 first-time home buyers within the next five years. However, in the Policy Address, there is no mention of any measure to curb property prices. Can Mr TUNG tell us whether the Government is worried that speculators will make use of this "Home Starter" loan scheme to push property prices further?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE (in Cantonese): Miss CHOY, of course we are worried. But we feel that we should get to the root of the problem and the most effective solution to tackle the situation radically is to supply more land and more flats. Promulgation of administrative measures that lead to a crash in property prices will bring about an undesirable impact on the whole society. That will not be a long term solution either because if there is a crash in property prices, our economic development will also suffer greatly. Our direction is to achieve a "soft landing". Even so, this would not be an easy task. We are keeping a close eye on the entire property market and hope that the target can be attained.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr TUNG, thank you very much for answering the questions from 29 Members. In accordance with the Rules of Procedure, I now adjourn the meeting until 2.30 pm on Wednesday, 15 October 1997.
Will Members please remain standing while the Chief Executive leaves the Chamber.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Four's clock.