Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
You may have already heard about our Chief Executive’s first Policy Address on Wednesday. Carrie Lam broke with tradition in her maiden policy address, delivering the highlights of her speech to help citizens focus on the vision and mission of her administration in the coming five years. The act itself showcased her new governance style. And I am particularly delighted to see how actively the public have been engaged in discussing her new moves.
One key initiative spelt out by Carrie Lam is a huge reduction to profits tax. Profits tax on the first HK$2 million a business makes will be halved to 8.25 per cent. Profits beyond that will still be subject to the standard rate of 16.5 per cent. To encourage research and development (R&D), it is also proposed that the first HK$2 million eligible R&D expenditure will get a 300 per cent tax deduction, with the rest at 200 per cent.
This is simply unexpected good news for local start-ups and SMEs. Hong Kong is known as an important financial, trade and transport hub with many investors eager to do business in this city. However, a lot of SMEs and start-ups nowadays are facing tough challenges, including rising operational costs in rents and wages, and stiff competition from neighbouring economies. The reduction of profits tax will no doubt help ease the heavy burden of SMEs. We also welcome the tax breaks for companies that invest in R&D as this will foster the growth of local SMEs and start-ups and ultimately promote the development of innovation and technology in Hong Kong. We hope that the government will continue to provide more support for the city’s innovative industries.
Still, we urge Carrie Lam to reconsider cutting the overall standard profits tax rate from 16.5 per cent to 15 per cent. In the face of fierce competition from neighbouring cities, Hong Kong’s low-tax regime is gradually losing its attractiveness to investors. Therefore, we need to prescribe effective doses for the tax reform in order to catch up with our competitors otherwise we will risk losing our edge.
As the government is going to host a “Summit on the New Directions for Taxation”, I hope it can keep an open mind about reforming the city’s tax regime and be receptive to new ideas. For example, we can seek talks with relevant mainland departments over the possibility of extending Hong Kong’s tax measures in the Greater Bay Area as a pilot scheme? This can be a win-win for investors as it will enhance the economic performance in the Area while consolidating the interests of the stakeholders.
As to Lam’s proposal to expand the convention and exhibition facilities in Wan Chai, I think it is vital to the city’s commercial development as this will facilitate the development of the manufacturing and services industries. As the current Convention and Exhibition Centre has constantly been fully booked with a long waiting list, the lack of these facilities will adversely affect Hong Kong’s business development. The Trade and Development Council and the business sector have repeatedly requested the government to build the third phase of the Convention and Exhibition Centre because investors will be forced to look for elsewhere for promoting their products and businesses without a proper venue. Now the proposed extension project will add about 23,000 square metres of additional convention and exhibition facilities, with other facilities such as hotels and Grade A office space. We should give our full support to the project, otherwise Hong Kong will miss many opportunities to host some of the large-scale events.
On the housing front, I think it is important to help young families climb up the housing ladder. For tackling this issue, Lam announced a new subsidised “starter homes” scheme providing about 1,000 residential units for the affordable families to purchase homes. I believe his scheme can make more young people become homeowners and bring hope to the young community. However, the government first needs to resolve the matter of finding adequate supply of land to meet the huge housing demand. Also, can we open discussions again on the import of workers to meet the immense demand of manpower in the construction industry? I hope that the government can find ways to tackle such long-standing problems.
Only in its 100 days in office, the new administration has already mapped out a blueprint for the city’s long-term economic development and gradually rolled out some effective measures. I hope the public will learn to appreciate the good will of the government and whine less over trivial matters. Hong Kong can no longer afford to remain stagnant amid rapid progress in neighboring economies. We need to be pragmatic in approaching different issues and allow time for the government to implement new policies. The government won’t be able to act efficiently if some of us deliberately make things difficult for it.
The Trade and Industry sector sincerely hopes that the government can adopt innovative thinking to deal with issues that we are most concerned about and enhance inter-departmental communication and cooperation, all for a better future for Hong Kong.
Dear Hong Kong Citizens,
As you may have noticed, the grade one historic building in Tuen Mun known as the Hung Lau has been put into the spotlight recently due to the damages that it has sustained by developers. The attitude and efficiency the H.K. government exhibited (after the damages were known) was totally unacceptable, and calls into question how effective our current heritage conservation policy is in protecting historic monuments.
The Hung Lau, which means "Red House" in Cantonese, is historically important as it is said to be linked to Dr. Sun Yat-sen during the Chinese republican revolutionary days. Yet, trees surrounding the Hung Lau were chopped down, parts of the walls surrounding the building were torn down, even the water supply was cut off forcefully in February. I visited the site with Tuen Mun local residents as soon as I knew about these damages, and saw no sign that such work would stop. I wrote to Secretary of Development Eric Ma immediately, requesting him to declare the Hung Lau a ‘proposed monument’ under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance. On 1st of March, Antiquities Advisory Board, abbreviated as AAB, stated that it would not declare the building a ‘proposed monument’, and that it would only declare it as such, only if it should sustain any further damages in the future, a decision I find ill-informed and completely unreasonable. On 8th of March, multiple windows of Hung Lau were damaged and only then did the Antiquities and Monuments Office declare it a ‘proposed monument’. The way how things turned out not only showed how incapable the government is when protecting historic monuments, it also shows how little significance is attached to heritage conservation.
When a building that has not been declared a monument is about to be demolished, such work could only take place after permission from "Building Department" or "Lands Department" under the "Building Ordinance" (Cap12) and "Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance". However, as seen in the case of the Hung Lau, when damages were reported and demolishing work started to take place, the only action taken by the authorities was Building Department issuing a Notice and putting it in an obvious spot, which fails to act as a deterrent. Lessons learnt from past examples have also shown the unavoidably repeated fate of demolition even if the monuments were given a grade one status, like that of Queen’s Pier and Star Ferry Pier. It is also worth mentioning that Ho Tung Gardens and the Complex of King Yin Lei at Stubbs Road were also granted a "proposed monument" status after they were damaged, which further demonstrates the government’s incapability of protecting ungraded historical buildings.
The Chief Executive appoints the chairman and members of the board of AAB (Antiquities Advisory Board), which explains why its members are all his supports and confidants, making the Broad as a consultative panel full of politicians and businessmen. Only four members of the board have archaeological and historical backgrounds, the rest of them are from fields such as planning, accounting, politics and information and technology. This undoubtedly questions the legitimacy of AAB Antiquities Advisory Board. Moreover, under such leadership, discussions inside Antiquities Advisory Board are inevitably driven by development and business interests. Heritage conservation is an important step towards achieving sustainable development, but such goal seems more difficult to achieve when the effectiveness of Antiquities Advisory Board is hampered by the way the CE appoints its members.
To ensure that buildings with historical significance are protected, the Historic Buildings Grading System should be added into the jurisdiction of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, This would prevent private property owners from tearing down any buildings of historical value, and ensure that buildings that are not declared a monument could also be protected. In addition, the Antiquities and Monuments Office should increase its transparency and accountability by allowing public participation and the nomination of representatives from the corresponding fields. Lastly, the government should also consider setting up an Architectural Heritage Fund that is responsible for conserving historic buildings and monuments.
Even though the Hung Lau is currently declared a ‘proposed monument', the building is only safe for a year. Thus, I hope the building will be declared a monument, so that the public can know more about the building and its history in the future. Like many fellow citizens, I also hope the publicity this series of events has generated can help raise the public’s awareness to Hong Kong’s heritage conservation policy.