All of the excerpts below are from the SCMP.
This is from October 4th and I was surprised that none of the English-languages blogs that I follow picked up on this:
A record number of Hongkongers are living in poverty, with 1.26 million people – or 18.1 per cent of the population – making less than HK$3,500 a month each. This the highest number of poor people since 2001 …
This from October 10:
There goes the neighbourhood. The government’s new policy on compulsory sales in old buildings has set off a property gold rush in Hong Kong’s older districts.
The resulting upheaval has put homeowners on guard and raised fears about the destruction of long-established communities.
The impact can be felt in places like Ho Man Tin, where up to 20 buildings in a few blocks east of the MTR’s East Rail line are targeted for redevelopment. About half are being acquired by Richfield Realty, a company whose controversial acquisition methods include the hanging of large red banners over targeted buildings, a tactic that many homeowners say creates an atmosphere of intimidation.
The policies of the current non-elected, non-representational HK administration are making the rich richer and everyone else poorer and it’s becoming clearer everywhere you look.
But did anyone think that Donald Tsang’s annual policy address on October 13th would do anything to address this issue?
Hong Kong’s economy has recovered from the global economic recession – but still faced “many uncertainties”, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said on Wednesday.
In his latest policy address, Tsang said the economic situation had more or less stabilised. “We have weathered this financial storm,” he said, referring to the global economic meltdown which hit the international economy in late 2008.
“The Hong Kong economy has progressively stepped out of the shadow of the global financial crisis,” Tsang said.
Obviously, with the number of people living in poverty continuing to increase, it’s all a matter of how you compute those numbers.
The chief executive said “livelihood issues” were now Hong Kong’s principal concerns – particularly “housing, the wealth gap and elderly welfare”.
Tsang said the government had been trying to deal with these issues.
He noted that as Hong Kong’s economy and society progressed, people’s expectations about their lives and the government also changed.
“Post-war migrants to Hong Kong looked for food and shelter to improve their living standards. The generation that followed sought to build a comfortable home and a good career. The new generation pursues social justice, civil rights and environmental conservation.
“This is what a mature economy goes through in the course of social development. We cannot avoid these changes. Instead, we should actively promote them to build a better society for future generations,” he added.
Tsang acknowledged that recent social tensions in Hong Kong “stem partly from the wealth gap”.
“The most fundamental way to ease such tension is to enable the community to benefit from economic development and share the fruits of prosperity (SEHK: 0803,announcements, news) ,” he said in his latest policy address.
The SCMP thinks that prosperity is a publicly traded company?
At any rate, Tsang is setting up a HK$10 billion fund, half from the government, half from “donations” from large corporations to “support people in need.” I’m not quite clear on how this welfare system is meant to work. How are government handouts going to address the wealth gap?
On the real estate front, Tsang announced measures that will essentially add more money to the pockets of the large real estate developers. Essentially, he said that the government will still continue to tightly control the availability of land and that the system will still favor the large real estate conglomerates that have no incentive to build low or moderate income housing. Let’s face it, meager handouts aren’t going to address the issue when you have the Urban Renewal Authority working hand in hand with developers to put up horrendous buildings offering 400 square foot flats for HK$5 million.
If you’re claustrophobic, it’s probably not a good idea to visit the show flats for Wan Chai’s new Queen’s Cube development.
The toothpick-like tower at 239 Queen’s Road East comprises 96 flats ranging from 401 sq ft to 582 sq ft. Excluding common areas, the flats are just 275 sq ft to 398 sq ft, inclusive of a 21 sq ft balcony and a 16 sq ft utility platform.
The first reaction on seeing the 401 sq ft studio show flat was to wonder: “Is it a flat or a room?” The bed takes up half the flat, making it a challenge to get to the 21 sq ft balcony. And there is barely enough space to open the glass door to the balcony.
The sky-high prices for the tiny flats have brought the project to public notice. The Urban Renewal Authority, a public body, has been criticised for selling luxury flats that are unaffordable.
The 29-storey block is being marketed as like “staying in a hip hotel: dedicated caretakers are there to attend to all of life’s trivial matters, leaving you free and with total peace of mind”. Its booklet listing concierge services gives information on fixing mail boxes and borrowing a torch.
I understand that “torch” is the British word for what Americans refer to as a “flashlight.” But I wonder if anyone who is crazy enough to buy or rent one of these flats might soon be asking for a different kind of torch.
Critics are starting to weigh in on Tsang’s speech.
New measures outlined in the chief executive’s policy blueprint will not satisfy people’s demand for government help in becoming homeowners and will have no immediate impact on rising property prices, academics and market watchers say.
Measures in the policy address to narrow the gap between rich and poor are inadequate and just skim the surface, academics and social workers say.
A HK$10 billion Community Care Fund to be financed equally by the government and business is no substitute for a good welfare system and a fairer labour market, they said.
Christine Fang Meng-sang, chief executive of The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, said creating the fund did not absolve the government of its responsibility to offer welfare services.
“The government must solve the poverty problem that was caused by the unbalanced labour market through its policies,” she said.
But the government has no interest in doing that. Hell, they’re not even doing anything substantial about air pollution.
A year after the completion of a public consultation on air quality objectives, the chief executive yesterday made no mention in his policy address of how to update the benchmarks, which are crucial to the fight to reduce pollution.
Instead, he came up with a few initiatives to cut roadside pollution. Green groups described these new measures as “a disguise for Donald Tsang Yam-kuen” to cover up his lack of commitment on fundamental issues – such as revising the objectives and bringing them in line with the latest World Health Organisation benchmarks.
Expectations were high before the speech, since the chief executive had pledged two years ago to do just that. But Tsang mentioned nothing about it in the policy address, raising suspicions the government is using delay tactics to avoid more stringent environmental standards getting in the way of the upcoming infrastructure projects.
So another year goes by and more of the same. The greed of the major conglomerates that truly run Hong Kong continues to squeeze the middle class and the government has no interest in changing the status quo.
The funny thing is, and maybe I’m wrong about this, but the PRC government actually gets that in order to maintain stability and social harmony, they have to work really hard to lift people out of poverty. Sure, they’re not completely successful at it but they are operating under the principle that if people are making money, they’ll keep their mouths shut and just go on with their business. I don’t think Hong Kong’s leadership gets this. They’re not doing anything real to address the wealth gap or the destruction of the middle class; they’re expanding the underclasses. And this could eventually backfire.