People-centric philosophy points the way forward for HK governance

On Sept 30, the day before National Day, Luo Huining, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, visited “cage homes” and community centers to proactively listen to the general public. “The central government and its Hong Kong office attach importance to the views of representatives from all walks of life, but more attention is paid to directly listening to the grassroots and local residents,” Luo remarked, sending a strong signal that the central government is deeply concerned about deep-rooted social issues, is in touch with the mass population, and cares about grassroots communities.

During Luo’s busy day of various visits, two were the highlights, with an underlying message for the HKSAR government. Luo started his day by visiting “cage homes” in Mong Kok, the busiest district in Hong Kong, with the notoriously crowded and poor living conditions. He said openly that he was very saddened after seeing the bad conditions of “cage homes”. Housing is the largest livelihood issue in Hong Kong, which absolutely requires a solution as soon as possible. His comment is a clear message to the HKSAR government, upon which it is incumbent to shoulder bigger responsibilities to solve the problems. It was somewhat of a relief that the new Policy Address confronts the major problems head-on, even as policies and measures take time to yield results. When speaking to the elderly in Sham Shui Po, Luo was told that the queue for elderly people in public hospitals is extremely long. He spent considerable time talking with the senior citizens who were lining up in the community hall for free medical services provided by a State-owned enterprise in Hong Kong, and encouraged more such public-private partnership to provide medical services. Luo recognized the fact that although the overall quality of healthcare in Hong Kong is relatively high, the medical resources can hardly meet the public’s need.

We cannot afford any further delay in putting forward practical measures and tangible actions to address the city’s two biggest problems; namely, the housing and healthcare shortages

Reading from Luo’s visit arrangement, one can easily find the profound meaning of the emphasis on the deep-seated social problems. We cannot afford any further delay in putting forward practical measures and tangible actions to address the city’s two biggest problems; namely, the housing and healthcare shortages.

As far as housing is concerned, the increase of land supply and strategic town planning with a view to developing the New Territories holistically with transport connectivity and livelihood facilities are the key to success, as suggested by the Policy Address. But the red tape must be cut for streamlined town planning and approval, and land-use conversion must be sped up for agricultural land, brownfields and quarries so as to achieve the medium-term target of releasing about 330 hectares for construction of public housing, providing approximately 316,000 units in 10 years. The most outstanding issue is for the young generations and families to get housed. This means dual efforts on homeownership and rental opportunities, targeting the special groups in need. As Luo commented in his visit, the fundamental objective of the government is to let Hong Kong residents live a better life in a good home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a recurring problem of Hong Kong’s healthcare system — a manpower shortage in the public health system. We have all been aware of a long waiting list of patients and a lack of staffing for public hospitals. Although the government intends to import overseas-trained doctors, the problem is far from being solved, as the shortage also comes from other medical practitioners, e.g., nurses in the public healthcare system; and we lack sufficient medical facilities for public services under the government’s system. Setting up a task force to investigate the measures for improvement to attract, retain and motivate the staff in public hospitals should be the immediate to-do. The Policy Address does not go into details on this issue, but it is hoped that this issue is within the government’s crosshairs.

When Luo visited the Sham Shui Po Kaifong Welfare Association, State-owned medical groups were serving the senior residents for free. He instructed the groups under SOEs to do more for public services. During this coronavirus pandemic, the vaccination centers are managed by private firms in a public-private partnership, which has turned out to be quite effective. These serve as new models as the government considers expanding the scope of public-private collaboration on providing basic medical services in order to alleviate the huge pressure on the public-hospital system. In the longer run, Hong Kong needs to systematically review its healthcare system in the context of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and overhaul it with a view to outsourcing some of the medical services to medical-service providers in other Greater Bay Area cities.

As Luo said, the people-centric development philosophy should be established. This is the way forward and also a philosophy that the new Policy Address seemingly has adopted, and rightly so. 

The author is a radiologist and non-official member of the Commission on Poverty in Hong Kong.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.