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Transcript of SHPL's press conference


Following is the transcript of the press conference hosted by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen today (November 13) on the housing policies announced by the Government:

Reporter: First of all, what makes you think that these measures are going to bring about stability in the market? When you talk about stability, what exactly are you talking about? What sort of level of appreciation would the Government like to see in the property market? What are you actually aiming for? Thirdly, how can you justify these measures? Critics are saying that you are playing actually into the hands of the developers? Sorry, three questions and please answer that.

Mr Suen: I'm not sure about the third. In any case, I think everybody understands that our aim today is to redefine and focus our policy intent. We are telling the public what we are trying to achieve in terms of our public housing policy, and in so doing we define our own role. Let me first begin by saying that we do recognize that the Government has got a social responsibility to look after those who are in dire need of public housing, those who are not able to take care of themselves. So in our statement, we have emphasised that the Government will continue to provide public rental housing in order to cater for those who are in need. Having dealt with that, we examined Government's role in the property market. In the past, Government's role in the property market is varied and many. There are various schemes. Because of the latest development in the market, there is an overlap between what Government tries to provide and what the market itself provides. Because of the overlap, it has led to a number of problems. We have tried to redress that. We have come to a conclusion that Government must be involved in the market to a certain extent because of the fact that Government is the main provider of land in the market. But we have concluded that the Government should not be involved as a developer because the role of the developer should be played by the property market. It should be in the hand of the market. Everything should be decided by the market. So here, we have come out with a clear statement of policy of our own role in this particular respect.

We go on to say about various measures which can be interpreted as interventionist. We have tried to clear our own role in that particular regard. We try to minimise our role in that particular direction by getting away from certain measures which can be interpreted that way. In the whole exercise, what we are trying to come up with is a clear statement of policy of what we stand for, what we go for and what are our objectives. That's what we are trying to achieve. Of course, whether in fact there will be any impact on the state of the property market is a matter for the market to decide. You will have noticed that we have given no implication as to what we want in terms of the level of price because we don't believe that it is a matter for us to decide. It is a matter for the market. It is only that we have tried to provide a clear statement of policy, to provide a level playing field and the rest is up to the market. Of course, every one of us would like to see people picking up their confidence, people starting to invest, and hence would have the effect of boosting the economy.

Reporter: But what is stability? What is your definition of stability? What would you like to see the market? What level?

Mr Suen: I don't think it's a matter for me to say what I like to see. As I said, I believe that because the property prices have tumbled by 60 percent from its height, I think it is the consensus of everyone that it won't do us any harm with the return of confidence.

Reporter: Mr Suen, this is not the first time that the Government is enacting property measures. You have done that before and obviously it didn't work. This time obviously is, as you said, a more heavy dose of medicine to try to stablilise the property market. As you said before, the property market could not be propped up. It cannot be fixed. What makes you to believe that, because the crux of the problem now seems to be people's confidence, not only in the property market, but people's confidence in the Government, in the leadership, unemployment and all that. What makes you to believe that just by property measures it would help to bring back people's confidence, because confidence doesn't only stem from the property market alone?

Mr Suen: We have undertaken a very comprehensive review of our various policies. We have gone back to basics. We are not just trying to amend a few policies in order to suit a particular circumstance. We are not just trying to address one or two isolated problems. What we are trying to do, what we have done on this occasion, is to take the opportunity to have a complete review of our policies and to go back to basics. As I said, to redefine, to re-focus on certain matters which required our attention. We have in the process come up with a conclusion that we should not get involved in various aspects which are harmful to the economy. Having done this, we believe that we have now cleared the field to enable the market to function more properly. There is now, I hope, a clearer division of responsibility, a clearer understanding of the role that can be played by the private sector, without fear that there is an one-off opportunity the Government will step in and interfere. I think all these are important to understand our rationale behind all these packages. And also for this reason, I hope that this time around the market will respond to it positively.

Reporter: Mr Suen, as an international city, what sort of message are you trying to tell our friends in New York with the coming up of these sweeping changes?

Mr Suen: The main message is very simple, that Hong Kong is still a very good place for investment.

Reporter: How can you hold that?

Mr Suen: Of all these measures, there is our hope, isn't it? After all these measures are being implemented, we all hope that it will lead to something.

Reporter: Isn't there the danger that people see these changes as an admission of the Government erring in its housing policy in the past few years?

Mr Suen: I don't think it should be interpreted that way because circumstances do change. That's why every now and then, every one of us undertake a review of whatever in our policy that doesn't change with the time because of the changed circumstances. In the field of housing, we are meeting exactly the same problem. That's why we are undertaking this particular exercise. We are certainly not saying what we have done in the past is all wrong. That would be a gross misrepresentation of the facts. All that we are doing is to address the problems that we are facing currently and try to do something about it.

(Note: Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

End/Wednesday, November 13, 2002


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