All eyes are now on Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s first Policy Address to see if he lives up to his much-vaunted policy of prioritizing achieving results under his administration. Lee has spoken of his determination to address the intractable livelihood issues to meet the expectations of the people, and in response to the directives of President Xi Jinping made on July 1 in Hong Kong.
I recall attending an annual strategy workshop of a successful business enterprise. What stood out on that occasion was the chief executive officer’s demand while brainstorming with his senior staff that they come up with initiatives that would elicit a positive “Wow!” reaction of satisfaction and surprise from their customers. Let’s hope Lee will achieve this same public reaction when he unveils his first ambitious program to meet the needs and aspirations of Hong Kong residents.
The following are my proposals that I hope will make it to Lee’s “wow program” under his Policy Address.
First, he must confront head-on the housing problem, among the hardest nuts to crack because there really are no quick fixes as it involves land and infrastructure development, which take years just to prepare the groundwork. But in the meantime, he can demonstrate his commitment by taking some bold actions to show his resolve. He can do this by proposing to repossess the entire Fanling golf course to build public housing on it.
There is a most worrying trend among a number of prominent people who used to occupy very senior political positions whom I once admired but now are pressuring the government to withdraw its earlier decision to retrieve a small plot of land from the Fanling golf course for public housing. It should be pointed out that the earlier government decision was based on the recommendation of a high-powered working group, the Task Force on Land Supply, in 2018. It issued a report titled “Striving for Multi-pronged Land Supply” after conducting an elaborate public consultation exercise on addressing the housing problem in Hong Kong. The consultation found overwhelming public support to take back the entire Fanling golf course for housing development, but the government decided to compromise by retrieving only one-sixth of the whole course — 32 hectares, or nine holes out of the 54-hole course — for building around 10,000 public housing units to accommodate about 30,000 people. Instead of gracefully accepting the government’s compromise offer, the Fanling Golf Club has launched an aggressive PR campaign and pushed its 3,000 members, who are among the most influential people in Hong Kong, to fight for the retention of the entire course. Their aggressive strategy serves only to dramatize our elite society’s disconnect with some of Hong Kong’s most pressing grassroots problems. Imagine that they are prepared to prioritize the enjoyment of a few thousand club members over the basic housing needs of their much-poorer fellow citizens, some 226,000 of them now crammed into tiny, subdivided units in unhygienic and often-hazardous conditions. As a result of the land shortage for housing development, the waiting time for public housing has now been extended from three years to six.
The Fanling golf course is reminiscent of the old Hong Kong Cricket Club, which used to occupy a piece of prime real estate in the middle of the Central business district to serve the colonial officials and the expatriates in their pursuit of a national pastime. At least the colonial administrators at the time were politically sensitive enough to relocate the Cricket Club and convert its grounds into Chater Garden, which now serves countless office workers every day in the district. It would be ironic if our current Chinese administration failed to match the political sensitivity of a former colonial administration in prioritizing the needs of the majority of citizens in the lower economic strata over those of the elite few. I feel John Lee should grab the bull by its horns and do the right thing, even paying the price of displeasing some of his most powerful friends. But he would be more than rewarded for his “sacrifice” as he would for sure immediately win over the hearts and minds of most Hong Kong residents for his political courage, not to mention the approbation of the central government in Beijing.
In reality, the Fanling golf course can easily be relocated to somewhere on Lantau Island, perhaps near Hong Kong Disneyland, and become another tourist attraction, while some of its precious old trees and beautiful environment can be preserved for the enjoyment of all citizens.
Second, the CE should announce an immediate relaxation on the admission of highly qualified medical doctors from the Chinese mainland to alleviate our severe shortage of medical doctors, particularly specialists. The Hong Kong Medical Council’s concern about the qualification of doctors from the mainland can be assuaged by limiting our recruitment to the most prestigious medical schools on the mainland and specifying a minimum experience of, say, five years as medical specialists. These doctors also bring with them the advantage of understanding the Chinese language and culture. Furthermore, it is high time that dental treatments should be included in our public health system. It does not make sense that the public can have access to all medical treatments except dental care in government hospitals.
Third, to improve our quality of life, two things can be introduced easily with guaranteed positive public feedback. One is for the government to mandate a five-day workweek. Hong Kong is one of the few metropolitan cities still observing a six-day workweek, even behind the mainland. As a matter of fact, about a dozen countries have already introduced — or are experimenting with — four-day workweeks, with no loss of productivity but only a happier and more efficient workforce to show for it! Another not-insignificant side effect is that it boosts consumer spending and thus economic growth! The resultant increased local spending in catering, entertainment, hotel and tourism would, in turn, reduce our unemployment rate as all these businesses would need more employees. To make Hong Kong a more-welcoming place, further relaxation of the hotel quarantine requirement should be introduced. When thousands of Hong Kong residents contracting COVID-19 are allowed to recover at home, it does not make sense to impose tough hotel quarantines for incoming healthy passengers who have received full inoculations and have proven negative test results on arrival.
At the end of the day, how we live is really more important than how long we live. Therefore, despite Chinese people’s aversion to discussing end-of-life issues, it is time to have a public debate on the legal ramifications of euthanasia. This issue was practically thrust upon us by a recent tragic court case in which a husband was accused of manslaughter for the killing of his wife, who had been suffering from terminal cancer for several years. Toward the end, the wife was suffering from great pain despite a double dose of morphine. In order to end her suffering, and not wanting to see her dying alone in the hospital, and with the wife’s consent, he ended her life in a painless way by charcoal burning in her room. The High Court judge expressed his compassion and sentenced him to the most lenient sentence on record for manslaughter — a probation order for 12 months.
The judge also appealed to the government and the public to review and have an open discussion on the current policies concerning treating the terminally ill, as the case has forced the issue into the public arena. It highlighted the question of whether legal measures should be introduced to take into account the wishes of the terminally ill in “extremely desperate situations”. Voluntary euthanasia is now common in many Western countries, including Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and some US states. All human beings are entitled to a dignified death as much as they are entitled to a dignified life. If we see it fit to apply this principle to our pets, why not to ourselves?
Finally, there should be a hearty round of applause if John Lee were to announce the abolition of the wearing of wigs in court with immediate effect, which is nothing but a silly vestige of our colonial history!
The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space, and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.