October 17, 2010
Caring, Sharing and Daring
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Dear fellow citizens,
When I was preparing this year's Policy Address, I was acutely aware that I am well into the second half of my term. The clock on my office wall seems to be ticking a little faster these days.
With this in mind, I made "caring and sharing" the theme of my Policy Address this year - caring for each other, and sharing our prosperity.
I might also add "daring" to the package because this year's Address has tackled head-on some of the more difficult issues we are facing as a society - conflicting interests, the relationship between the Government and some key players in society, and long-term policies that are badly needed but may take more than one administration to see through.
I have tweaked some existing policies and introduced new ones that I believe will tackle these issues, not just for the remainder of my tenure but also for the years following.
Two such issues are poverty alleviation and the environment, and that's what I want to touch on today.
Providing meaningful support for the poorer people in our community is exactly what I mean by "caring, sharing and daring".
I have taken a fresh approach to poverty alleviation by setting up a Community Care Fund. It is daring, because the initiative expands the Government's role beyond the traditional approach of funding welfare services and welfare programmes.
The Government will also be a fund-raiser, and a promoter of community participation. The fund will provide our business sector with a new mission to serve our community. While helping to lift low-income families out of poverty, the Fund will also encourage social responsibility and promote the spirit of philanthropy within the business community.
The Fund will target those who, for one reason or another, fall outside the net of conventional social services. I've heard of many such cases. They are all quite different but at the same time all quite moving. They need to be followed up case-by-case, and there is often a need for tailor-made assistance.
The Chief Secretary for Administration, who will chair the Fund, will start work by identifying key areas where the money can be put to the best use.
Our target is to raise $10 billion - with half from the Government and the other half from the business community. I've been talking to some business leaders and, judging from their keen response, I am confident we can hit the target.
Hong Kong people are known for their generosity and support of worthy causes. Last Thursday, when I attended a phone-in programme, a caller by the name of Mr Cheung said donors to the Fund should not be restricted to the business community. Other people - ordinary citizens - should be able to chip in too.
He is right, and the Chief Secretary will consider suitable ways for the public to contribute.
Providing financial support is only part of our strategy to tackle poverty. Education and job creation are also important.
In an advanced society like ours, education is the key to upward social mobility.
In recent years school textbook prices have become a burden for some families. That is why I have more than doubled the assistance for textbooks to $1,000 for full-grant students, and to $500 for half-grant students.
There will be more Government-subvented university places, and scholarships for students on self-financing post-secondary programmes.
On the jobs front, the 10 infrastructure projects I promoted in 2007 are proceeding nicely. In the next few years, the Government will invest more than $50 billion into these projects and other capital works projects every year. That is a record high. These projects will secure many jobs for our construction industry and modernise our physical infrastructure.
With our economy back on track, the unemployment rate has returned to pre-financial crisis levels. Meanwhile we shall launch a new travel subsidy scheme for low-income employees. I also expect the statutory minimum wage to come into force in the first half of next year.
Another policy area that we will concentrate on is the environment, which has been a major policy focus of my administration from day one.
We have made progress over the years but we must do more, particularly with air pollution.
Roadside air pollution remains a lingering problem. There are still too many high-emission buses on our roads.
My goal is to allow only zero-emission buses running in Hong Kong. This has to be a long-term vision, because current technology for zero-emission buses is yet to be tested in territories and climatic conditions similar to Hong Kong's.
Although it is unlikely to be realised before the end of my term, it is a very worthwhile and feasible goal. All we need is good planning and early action. Bus manufacturers in Europe, Japan and Mainland China are fast refining their technology, and electric buses are on trial in several cities. And we can do it if we set our sights sharply, incentivise our franchised bus companies to follow our vision, and make firm commitments to reducing vehicle emissions.
Meanwhile, we must make the older, heavy-polluting Euro II and Euro III more environmentally friendly. This we will do by retrofitting catalytic devices to cut emissions.
The Government will bear the capital costs involved. The Government will also buy six hybrid double-deckers to be tested by bus companies along busy urban routes. We will test the benefits of these buses for both the environment and the companies.
If the bus companies wish to try out electric buses, the Government will be happy to help too.
At the same time we will be trying out low-emission zones in busy districts such as Mong Kok, Central and Causeway Bay by allowing only low-emission buses to enter there.
Our city's rapid development is felt not only on our roadside, but also in our spectacular harbour.
Over the past few years, much good work has helped to improve the water quality in Victoria Harbour. Next year, I expect we will be able to re-open some of the beaches near Tsuen Wan, which have been closed for many years because of poor water quality. And I have earmarked $17 billion for stepping up engineering work for improving the water quality further. We must make Victoria Harbour a continuing pride and a source of joy for our future generations.
Please join me in promoting a more "caring and sharing" society and also in "daring" to tackle the difficult issues our society is up against.
The future is ours.
| Donald TSANG Yam-kuen,