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The following is transcript of a question and answer session given by the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, at the Joint Chambers' luncheon, today (October 12):

Question: Many countries, they offer permanent residentship to invest the foreign investment in their country. For example, Singapore, if you invest one million Singapore dollars they offer permanent residentship. Do we have such a scheme here in Hong Kong?

Mr Tung: As I said in the Policy Speech two days ago, we do have a scheme here in Hong Kong which actually encourages people to come here, invest and set up businesses, and based on certain criteria, the Government will then approve such set ups. And over the last three years, if I remember correctly, over 800 companies have actually come and set up in such a manner in Hong Kong. But what we find is maybe some inadequacies, as I mentioned in the Policy Speech, that should we or should we not - and I think we should be looking at those people who come in purely with investments, into Hong Kong, to attract investors to come to Hong Kong and to give them permanent residence status if they do come. And this is something the Government is giving serious consideration to as one more step towards -- further from what we are doing today.

Question: Mr Tung, it appeared to be a complement when you said in your ending remarks to have a better Hong Kong, twice. In your speech you talk about a lot of investment in human capital. Those are long term things. And yesterday we have heard a number of phone-calls on a phone-in programme, a lot of middle class people have been complaining about their present situation. What the Government or the Administration can do to help those middle class people, particularly those with negative equities?

Mr Tung: Of course, I personally, and I know the Government is sympathetic towards the middle class, those with negative equity. We are also sympathetic to all the others who have lost their jobs in this economic downturn. We listened very, very carefully to the views of the community. I myself, the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary, met so many different groups of people to try to understand what the public's views are, and we came up with the solution, as we did, in the Policy Speech. And actually, the Policy Speech has three sections. One talks about the short term measures; one talks about the medium term measures - and the medium term measures are principally focusing on trying to improve Hong Kong's competitiveness, making Hong Kong more business-friendly; and the long term measures, of course, are in areas of education, investment in infrastructure, hard infrastructure, as well as improving the quality of life generally for the people of Hong Kong.

So let me come back to the short term measures. We proposed three short term measures very specifically and they are with regard to the tax-deduction on your mortgage; with regard to rates payments - there will be a $2,000 waiver of rates payments; and also the fact that we are creating 30,000 new jobs. Not that the jobs -that we have created them because we want to create jobs, but the jobs that are really needed to improve Hong Kong. So these are sensible short term measures.

And, of course, do you think I could have done more? It is always a very difficult decision. Yes, you can always do more, the fiscal surplus is very huge. The question you ask yourself is: What is more responsible for you to do for the community as a whole? And we came away and thought that what we did was the right thing to do and the balanced thing to do. Unfortunately, it is not possible to please everybody, but I think it is important that we did this in the interests of the community as a whole.

Question: Mr Tung, like all permanent residents of Hong Kong, I was delighted to hear the news that the Central Government had approved the 3-year visa scheme, and we are very grateful to the Hong Kong Government and very impressed by the efficiency and speed with which it followed up our lobbying efforts in Beijing, in June, of the Joint Chamber Mission.

My question is, can we expect the same efficiency and speed in the implementation of the scheme, and is there any date?

Mr Tung: Well, if you were surprised with the speed last time, I hope you will be surprised by the speed this time, also.

Question: I am an urban planner, an urban designer and we all, in this profession, actually have been quite delighted that you have emphasized the environment and the quality of Hong Kong; the importance of the quality of the city to enhance the quality of life of people. And you have mentioned citizen participation, and I think, in Hong Kong, for citizen participation to really become successful or effective, there needs to be a lot of citizen education done on the importance of these factors.

And you have also mentioned about governance and things you are doing for the government to be more effective. I wondered whether you had intentions of making decision-making more decentralized to district level where citizen participation from grass-roots, from district level, can then have a better impact on the decisions that are made in Hong Kong towards the betterment of the city.

Mr Tung: I think our decision-making in the government, and also the speed of implementation, really need to be improved in line with today's needs of our community. And the purpose of the accountability system is a very important major step towards that direction because unless we can make the Government respond more quickly, more effectively and be more sensitive to the needs of the community, we will not succeed. We are moving in that direction.

In my Policy Speech, I also talked specifically about asking both the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary to look at all the areas - all the areas of the Government, where the cost of bureaucracy or because of the way processes need to be gone through, that the decisions have been made much too slow, and how this could be improved. And I just want to assure you that this is now being very seriously looked at.

And thirdly, of course we do have over 400 advisory committees, as well as 18 district councils. They are there to ensure that the Government hears the views of the people. And we also need to look at these to make sure that the Government is using all these various set-ups very, very effectively, so immediately, or as quickly as possible, we in the Central Government can hear what is happening around us in Hong Kong.

So I just want to assure you, all these things are very much on our minds. You know, to successfully come out of this economic downturn and to successfully transform our economic structure, the Government must respond. And I can assure you that within the whole government structure, we understand this and we are moving in that direction.

End/Friday, October 12, 2001


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