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For housing supply to be met, bureaucracy needs reform

bureaucracy reform

When Chief Executive Carrie Lam was taking questions from LegCo members last month, the issue of housing was undoubtedly a hot topic once again. The media focused mainly on the Chief Executive’s willingness to investigate the disconnect between market prices and what some properties are actually being sold for. Although I am personally inclined to agree with this divide, the myriad of issues involved are complex—in particular the approximate 400 thousand homeowners who have already bought their subsidised housing at market price. How can these people’s interests be represented? Even if selling prices were to be massively readjusted, but the issue of supply is not improved, the lowered prices would simply mean an increased number of applicants, which would in turn lead to more people being disappointed. Stanley Wong Yuen-fai of the Housing Authority has had to come out with cooling measures, reiterating that a disconnect is a difficult path to take.

But where exactly does Chief Executive Carrie Lam stand on the issue of housing? I have gained some enlightenment through the question and answer session. Firstly, Lam was apologetic towards Hong Kong citizens, stating that in the months following her taking office she has fallen short of expectations with regards to housing. The subtext, of course, is that she will push more forcefully to implement change and live up to the hopes placed upon her. Lam then went on to address the importance of land development; in other words, aggressively developing land to build more housing.

Lam then went no further in mentioning the increase of ‘spicy measures’. Thinking back to early April, the Lands Department increased employment by 370 roles in order to speed up the process of paying land premiums, which was expected to hasten the supply of approximately 60 thousand units. I expect Carrie Lam fully grasps that lack of supply is the root cause of inflating housing prices, and also understands that the previous government’s idea of using speculators and investors as scapegoats, and imparting the false belief that once ‘spicy measures’ have scared them off that housing prices will decrease, was quite simply an exhibit in failed policy management. 

The general direction is correct. But does this mean that supply will increase and needs will be met? Executive force is a crucial matter to also consider, and this is partly why vacant land in Hong Kong is often left that way for years before anything happens. Even after discounting big plots of land such as Kai Tak or West Kowloon, one still has to wonder when mid- to small-sized developments like the Central Market reconstruction or abandoned village school plots will ever get to yield more housing.

In the same Q&A session, paltry matters such as ticket resellers hiking up prices and public toilet hygiene were all brought before the Chief Executive. This speaks for itself regarding the efficiency of the executive departments and bureaucratic system, and Hong Kong citizens do have an inkling or more of an understanding. Environmental groups often oppose governmental decisions, delaying processes, and one of the reasons is because since the government has yet to fully make use of readily available land to be developed, then there should be no reason to start digging up mountains and filling the seas. If the government were to effectively solve the housing issue then the direction must be correct but in addition, the bureaucracy must also be done away with. Only then can citizens’ expectations be met. 

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