What Hong Kong needs to solve seemingly intractable problems – from housing to tourism

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Photographs, after heavy rainfall, of officials pointing at damaged areas suggest that they are highly engaged in doing something. Photographs of officials in dilapidated buildings suggest the same thing. And press conferences where a team of officials stands in front of a banner announcing “Happy Hong Kong” or some other campaign suggest that something very important and impactful is being announced.

Unfortunately, the Woody Allen saying, “80 per cent of success is showing up”, does not apply to public administration.Hong Kong requires some profound improvements, from addressing the issue of unaffordable housing to expanding the economic base beyond financial services and real estate to new industries to regaining its edge as an exciting tourist destination after China’s changes to the tax on luxury goods detracted from Hong Kong’s attractiveness as a shopping centre for mainland tourists.Last week, the visiting chairman of global pharmaceutical giant GSK pointed out that Hong Kong needs a proper strategy to become a biomedical hub, and that individual measures by themselves won’t make this happen.I could not help but think of our government’s approach to solving the housing problem, which seems piecemeal – transitional housing here, light public housing there, the Northern Metropolis and Lantau reclamation to bear fruit in 20 years.A strategy is an integrated plan of action to achieve a desired outcome. The Hong Kong government’s desired outcome, whether for housing or nightlife, is not clear to me. A list of over 100 key performance indicators is not a desired outcome, but a distraction that focuses attention on meeting individual actions, which altogether even if executed have no meaningful outcome.

What’s needed is clarity of thinking on everything required to achieve the desired outcome. In business, this is obvious.

ong Kong’s old buildings are crumbling, but flat owners balk at repair fees, prompting calls for government action on ‘ticking time bombs’” (September 6), highlights the massive number of buildings that failed to carry out mandatory safety inspections within the deadline, and also says “one” building was issued an order almost a decade ago.

I would like to point out that not only were there 3,800 outstanding mandatory building inspection notices at the end of May, according to Buildings Department figures, a great many of these notices are quite old: a total of 420 buildings have outstanding orders from a decade ago (2013) and 620 from 2014.

Your report also quotes Vincent Ho Kui-yip of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors as saying: “Many buildings have a financial reserve for daily maintenance work, such as fixing lights and burst water pipes, but not for large-scale inspections and repairs.”As reported on my website Transit Jam, Po On Building in Mong Kok, the building from which concrete chunks fell in July, and which has ignored its mandatory inspection notice since 2014, had reserves of over HK$780,000, according to statements posted in the lobby of the building.

This is no small sum, certainly way more than enough to have appointed a qualified safety inspector to start the ball rolling and highlight any immediate dangers to be rectified. Those property owners unwilling to shoulder repair bills or complaining about the cost of preventing their assets injuring passers-by perhaps shouldn’t have invested in shared concrete buildings in the first place.

The Buildings Department must be held to account for its failure to enforce these notices.

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