LCQ3: Procurement of professional services and professional consultancy services
There are views that currently various government departments have procured professional services and engaged professional consultancy services in the market to provide the Government with services and advice, and that the consultants' services will affect the Government's decision-making and Hong Kong's future development. To tie in with the National 14th Five-Year Plan to develop Hong Kong into a centre of finance, trade, maritime, innovation and technology, intellectual properties and dispute resolution services, the Government needs to nurture and expand the local professional sectors. However, there is no policy initiative in the 2022 Policy Address that fosters a robust growth of the local professional sectors. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it has plans to formulate policies to stipulate, in government contracts for procurement of professional services and professional consultancy services, that priority should be given to engaging enterprises owned by local or Mainland capital; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
Having consulted the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB); the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau; the Development Bureau (DEVB); the Environment and Ecology Bureau; the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau (ITIB); and the Department of Justice (DoJ), my reply to the Member's question is as follows:
The Government has been attaching great importance and support to the development of professional services. The National 14th Five-Year Plan establishes a strategic positioning for Hong Kong's future development at the national level, and supports Hong Kong in reinforcing and enhancing its competitive advantages in the development of the "eight centres". The Chief Executive announced in the 2022 Policy Address the establishment of the Steering Group on Integration into National Development to proactively promote high-quality development of co-operation between Hong Kong and the Belt and Road countries in areas including trade and commerce and professional services, with a view to expanding Hong Kong's international connections and exploring the global market.
In respect of procurement, the Government has been procuring various professional services and professional consultancy services to meet its operational needs. It is the Government's procurement policy to encourage more participation through fair, open and competitive procedures, so as to obtain goods and services at the best value for money in support of the Government's programmes and work. Hong Kong is a signatory to the Agreement on Government Procurement of the World Trade Organization (WTO GPA). When conducting relevant procurements, the Government abides by the WTO GPA principles to treat all local and non-local suppliers on an equal footing. Non-compliance with the relevant principles would render Hong Kong at risk of being challenged. Nevertheless, the Government has always welcomed local professional service sectors to participate in government procurement. For instance, among the DoJ's procurement of legal services in 2021-2022, an estimated 97 per cent of the total value was attributable to local counsel/arbitrators/professionals; for the DEVB, local and Mainland contractors and local consultant firms comprised respectively about 80 per cent of the total value of public works related procurement in the past three financial years; for the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), enterprises owned by local or Mainland capital accounted for about 96 per cent of the total procurement value of professional services on environmental studies in 2021-2022; and for departments under the ITIB's purview, local or Mainland enterprises covered about 95 per cent of the total procurement value of professional services. The Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) has also implemented measures to remove barriers to facilitate the participation of small and medium enterprises and start-ups in government procurement, by requiring procuring departments not to set tenderers' experience as an essential requirement, and requiring the weighting of tenderer's experience should not exceed 15 per cent of the total technical marks in tender assessment. At the same time, government bureaux and departments have also been proactively fostering the development of professional service sectors through various multi-pronged measures.
As mentioned in the 2022 Policy Address, the Professional Services Advancement Support Scheme (PASS) of the CEDB supports projects undertaken by professional bodies and relevant eligible groups on exchanges, publicity and enhancement of professional standards, with a view to promoting the development of Hong Kong's professional services. $50 million has been set aside under PASS to subsidise Hong Kong major professional service bodies to participate in relevant exchanges, publicity and professional standard enhancement activities organised by the Government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, so as to encourage Hong Kong's professional services sectors to step up promotion of Hong Kong's competitive edges and professional services to the Mainland (including Greater Bay Area cities) and overseas markets after the pandemic has stabilised.
As regards legal services, with a view to enhancing the technological capabilities of the legal sector in the provision of legal and dispute resolution services, the DoJ has established the LawTech Fund in 2020 to assist small and medium-size law firms and barristers' chambers in procuring information technology systems and arranging staff training. Over 500 applications accounting for over 70 per cent of the target law firms and barristers' chambers have been received, and each would receive a subsidy up to $50,000. The DoJ has also provided the Hong Kong Legal Cloud Fund of about $15.7 million to subsidise local legal and dispute resolution professionals for subscription to the Hong Kong Legal Cloud services, an online facility equipped with advanced information security technology to provide safe, secure and affordable data storage services for the sector.
On accounting services, the Government has attached importance to the high-quality and sustainable development of Hong Kong's accounting profession. The FSTB has launched various measures under the framework of the Agreement on Trade in Services of the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement to facilitate the provision of professional services by Hong Kong accountants in the Mainland. The Government is also pursuing measures that may further facilitate Hong Kong accountants' practice in the Greater Bay Area.
Other supporting measures include the Construction Innovation and Technology Fund established by the DEVB in 2018 with an approved allocation of $1 billion. An additional $1.2 billion has been injected this year to encourage effective adoption of innovation and technology in the construction and engineering sectors with a view to enhancing productivity and competitiveness. The Environmental Academy of the EPD has collaborated with various professional societies to provide the graduates with the professional training course GreenPro Training Programme to equip them with different areas of expertise in environmental protection. The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer has established the Smart Government Innovation Lab to create more business opportunities for the local professional sector by inviting them to provide information technology solutions which can enhance public services.
These are some of the key measures implemented by the Government to promote the development of local professional services. Relevant bureaux will maintain communication with stakeholders of their respective policy portfolio to continue formulating policies in support of local professional services sectors.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:58
Issued at HKT 12:58