The Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, has today (October 10) announced in his Policy Address a package of measures to help Hong Kong people through the current economic downturn and invest in the future.
At the same time he made a rallying call to Hong Kong people to draw on their strengths and 'walk the extra mile' to overcome current difficulties.
The Chief Executive unveiled a number of initiatives to relieve economic hardship, upgrade education and human resources, enhance Hong Kong's attraction as a business hub, improve the living environment and foster community spirit.
Mr Tung also revealed in his Policy Address the Government's initial thinking on ways to improve the system of accountability for senior officials, an exercise which he undertook in last year's Policy Address.
"Recently we have seen dramatic changes in the world around us and there are even tougher challenges ahead. We are facing the most acute economic problems for many years," Mr Tung said in his fifth Policy Address entitled 'Building on Our Strengths, Investing in Our Future'.
"In the face of our current economic difficulties, the most reliable source of strength is ourselves - the people of Hong Kong.
"In the past, when confronted with adversity, Hong Kong people always rise to the occasion. We maintain our composure, walk the extra mile, strive for excellence, better ourselves and break new ground.
"I firmly believe that with our intelligence, determination and adaptability we can overcome all difficulties as we forge ahead towards a bright future."
Mr Tung said that at this time of economic downturn, the Government had the responsibility to help relieve the hardships faced by the community.
He said the Government would create over 30,000 job opportunities in the short-term in a number of areas including recreational and cultural facilities, housing estate management, education, environmental protection, public sanitation and greening.
Mr Tung announced a $2,000 rates payment reduction next year for each rateable tenement. About 840 000 ratepayers would not have to pay rates in 2002 as a result, while remaining ratepayers would enjoy a full reduction of $2,000.
This concession will cost about $5 billion in lost revenue.
As a further measure to help home owners, the Government will propose to the Legislative Council to approve raising the tax deduction ceiling for housing loan interest to $150,000 per year for this and the next year of assessment. The current tax deduction is $100,000.
The Chief Executive unveiled plans to establish a Community Investment and Inclusion Fund with an initial $300 million Government grant. Public donations would also be welcomed.
The fund would encourage the local community and grassroots organisations to develop their own initiatives and enhance the community's motivation and dedication to help each other.
Mr Tung reaffirmed the Government's commitment to upgrading the quality of education and human resources to meet the needs of the knowledge-based economy.
He pledged to continue to increase investing in education every year for the next five to 10 years regardless of the economic situation.
"Education sits at the top of our social policy agenda," he said.
* $5 billion to subsidise those with aspirations to pursue continuing education and training programmes to stimulate life-long learning in the community;
* Upgrading the quality of teachers and providing more resources to help kindergartens employ more qualified teachers;
* A 50% increase in the allocation to secondary schools to create a better environment for teachers;
* Employing native English-speaking teachers or teaching assistants to strengthen English language teaching in primary schools;
* Reviewing the academic structures of secondary schools and universities to nurture more outstanding post-secondary graduates.
Mr Tung said that while developing knowledge skills, Hong Kong must not overlook the need to upgrade hard and soft infrastructure, to push ahead with large-scale projects and improve the business environment.
The backbone of Hong Kong's economy - small and medium enterprises - will benefit from $1.9 billion in financial assistance through four new funds being established as a result of recommendations in the Small and Medium Enterprises Committee report released in June.
The Government's commitment is $600 million more than that recommended by the Committee and will benefit more than 100,000 enterprises.
Other initiatives to improve Hong Kong's business environment include:
* Investing up to $2 billion to construct a new exhibition centre at Chek Lap Kok in conjunction with the Airport Authority;
* Setting up a Steering Committee on Logistics Development and a Logistics Development Council to promote Hong Kong's development as a major international transportation and logistics hub;
* A $100 million fund to support, on a matching basis, projects to enhance professional services in Hong Kong;
* Making it more convenient for Mainland business people to visit Hong Kong; making it more convenient for Hong Kong permanent residents who are foreign nationals to visit the Mainland; and looking at ways to relax immigration restrictions for overseas investors;
* Agreement reached with Mainland authorities to abolish the quota system for the Hong Kong Group Tour Scheme from January 2002. This will allow more Mainland tourists to visit Hong Kong.
In regard to hard infrastructure, Mr Tung said that the Government and the two railway corporations would invest $600 billion over the next 15 years in projects such as new rail lines, land formation, roads and on improving links with the Pearl River Delta.
He also said that early stage design was being prepared for an express railway service from Hung Hom to Shenzhen to link with a planned Shenzhen-Guangzhou express. The new rail service would cut travelling time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou to one hour.
Mr Tung said that Hong Kong and Guangdong Authorities had agreed to reach a consensus by April 2002 on a plan to implement long-term measures to improve the air quality of the region.
Other measures to improve the living environment would include increasing greening efforts, speeding up redevelopment of older urban areas, examining ways to make sporting activities more popular and constructing more quality sports facilities.
Referring to the Government's study on how to improve the system of accountability, Mr Tung suggested the introduction of a new system of appointing the top three Secretaries (the Chief Secretary for Administration, the Financial Secretary and the Secretary for Justice) and most Directors of Bureaux on terms different to those in the civil service. They would not be civil servants.
They would each be fully responsible for their respective policy portfolios designated by the Chief Executive and would lead the departments within their particular portfolios. They would be appointed to the Executive Council.
"In this way, they would participate directly in the Government's overall policy-making process and help set priorities for introducing policies. Work on issues which straddle across departments would be better co-ordinated. The Government would be able to respond more comprehensively and quickly to public demands; we would also be able to prioritise better the allocation of resources and formulate policies that suit the needs of the people," said Mr Tung.
Mr Tung said that it would be for the Chief Executive in the second term to decide whether these ideas should be implemented.
End/Wednesday, October 10, 2001