Following is a speech delivered by the Chairman of the Housing Authority, Mr Michael Suen, today (June 10) at the Annual Special Open Meeting of the Authority (English translation):
Members, fellow colleagues,
Thank you very much for attending the meeting today. In a moment, some Members will speak on the work of the Housing Authority (HA), and the Housing Department will respond to their comments in the next open meeting.
It has been over a year since I assumed the Chairmanship of the HA. Following the re-positioning of the Government's housing policy, the HA has rendered support and concentrated its resources on the continued provision of public rental housing (PRH) for those low-income families in genuine need. In view of the challenges facing the HA in the coming year, our work will focus on the following three priority areas:
First and foremost, we must seek to resolve the HA's structural financial problem in order to sustain the development of the public housing programme. This subject matter has been the topic of discussion by Members at previous meetings. We have to resolve the problem.
In the financial year 2003/04, the HA had a consolidated operating deficit of over $300 million, and the cash balance stood at $17.3 billion, which represents a substantial fall of $10.3 billion compared with that of 2002/03. There is a pressing need to address the financial difficulties currently faced by the HA. The department has already commenced its negotiations with the relevant government bureau with a view to formulating a set of comprehensive financial arrangements that can sustain our operations. We hope that we will soon reach an agreement on some matters of principle. On the other hand, we will continue with our efforts to explore new sources of revenue and reduce expenditure, to streamline the organisation, to lower the cost and to enhance the efficiency. The HA will also draw up a set of new financial measures to improve the budgetary processes and set up a budget committee to better monitor and control the costs and expenditure, so as to ensure more rational use of the financial resources under an ever-stringent financial situation.
Public Housing Rent
Secondly, as far as PRH rent is concerned, the HA had preliminary discussions on the issue of the rent level review in March this year. This was followed by the Legislative Council's motion debate on the review of rent policy in May this year. We will analyse and study the valuable opinions expressed by different quarters in order to formulate a rent adjustment mechanism that is objective and clear, and can provide a closer link to tenants' affordability and support the long-term sustainability of the public housing programme. The majority of the Members who spoke in the Legco's motion debate that day agreed that the provisions concerning rent adjustment in the existing Housing Ordinance should be amended.
Divestment of Retail and Car-parking Facilities
Lastly, the plan to enable the HA to divest its retail and car-parking facilities through public listing will be implemented later this financial year. The HA has already appointed the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Financial Officer for the new management company. They will work closely with other professional consultants to ensure the successful completion of the divestment project and the re-organisation exercise.
HA Members are drawn from different strata of society and have profound expertise and experience in their respective fields and professions, such as housing and community work. I hope that all Members will participate actively in the HA's business and give their opinions freely. On the other hand, the Housing Department will also seek Members' advice at an early stage when examining various options, so that it can bring in different perspectives in the process of formulating initiatives. In so doing, we will be able to balance the concerns and interests of different sectors of the community.
Ends/Thursday, June 10, 2004