Motion on “Appropriation Bill 2019” (2019.04.18)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): President, when the Budget this year was being drafted, the trade war between China and the United States was in full swing, and the Hong Kong economy was facing crisis. Under such volatile circumstances, the Financial Secretary has had not only to remain vigilant but also respond to social needs and promote economic development. Therefore, the Financial Secretary has revolved around the theme of “supporting enterprises, safeguarding jobs, stabilizing the economy, strengthening livelihoods”, rolled out practical and effective measures, put public money to proper use, refrained from spending money casually, and ensured the money goes to the right place.

However, when the Budget was announced, China and the United States had already started trade negotiations. Given improved market sentiment and upturns in the property market and stock market, people again acted as if nothing had happened. As such, some people have again criticized the Budget for failing to “hand out candies” sufficiently and allocate adequate funding. That said, I would like to remind Members that recently many organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the University of Hong Kong and various banks, have one after another lowered the projected economic growth rate of Hong Kong, saying that Hong Kong’s recent statistics on retail sales and export have been undesirable. There are still hidden problems with the Hong Kong economy, and, as the outcome of trade negotiations between China and the United States is still unknown, the market will be full of uncertainties.

For this reason, we need a Budget that can stabilize the economy and safeguard jobs. We should not ignore the crises in our economy by reason of the transitory tranquillity of the Hong Kong markets, nor should we forget that our fiscal surplus has dropped from last year’s $140 billion to this year’s $58.7 billion. Despite a big drop in revenue, the Budget has still introduced routine relief measures, including reducing salaries tax and profits tax, waiving rates, and providing an extra one-month allowance to recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. In fact, a good Budget must be responsive to the time. If the Financial Secretary spent blindly and lavishly even though he knew clearly the big drop in revenue and problems with the economy, he was acting irresponsibly. I believe that the Financial Secretary is a responsible person. He will not do something irresponsible for the sake of winning momentary applause.

Regarding the specifics of the Budget, first, I believe that the commitment of resources in the Budget is targeted. The health care issue is the best case in point. In recent years, the health care issue has been a grave concern in society. The waiting time for public health care services is getting increasingly longer, the departure of health care staff is deteriorating, the proposal of admitting overseas doctors has yet to be approved, and the public health care system is on the brink of a breakdown. The Budget will earmark $10 billion to set up a public health care stabilization fund for the Hospital Authority to cope with contingencies. An additional $5 billion will be earmarked for acquisition of medical equipment. Over $700 million will be used to boost the morale of health care workers and retain talent and an additional $400 million will be allocated to expand the scope of the Drug Formulary. Previous Budgets rarely designated the use of funds. I believe the move this year aims at accelerating the allocation of resources to help solve the problems expeditiously. Certainly, if the authorities want to rectify the existing imbalance in the health care system in the long run, they must properly undertake the second 10-year hospital development plan.

In addition, Hong Kong has done a lot of work in developing innovation and technology (“I&T”) industries, but there are still concerns in society that the Government may be a quitter. The Budget devotes much space to explain that the Government has commenced the relevant work and committed over $100 billion so far. The Budget also announces that $5.5 billion will be earmarked for the development of Cyberport 5, additional resources will be allocated to ensure the timely development of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park, and an additional sum of $800 million will be provided for research and development. I believe that the Budget enables the public to clearly know that the Government is determined to promote I&T development and continue to regard I&T as a new driving force for economic development. Secretary Nicholas YANG is also present today. I believe that he is charged with an important duty and Hong Kong hinges on him.

In addition, I have also noted that the Financial Secretary will transfer the Tax Policy Unit to come under the Financial Secretary’s Office. I believe that the Financial Secretary aims to step up the work of tax reform. In fact, various places in the world have conducted tax reform one after another to enhance their competitiveness. I once advised the Government to conduct tax reform, such as offering tax concessions, to attract foreign companies setting up regional headquarters in Hong Kong, thus enhancing the competitiveness of Hong Kong. As such, I hope that the Financial Secretary will expeditiously conduct a review to keep Hong Kong’s tax regime up to date.

The Budget proposes setting aside $2 billion to support non-governmental organizations in constructing transitional housing. I welcome the Financial Secretary’s decision and hope that the work can be commenced as soon as possible. In fact, the housing problem still distresses Hong Kong people. As the Government has decided to increase the ratio of public housing, the supply of private housing will naturally be reduced. There is a concern in society that property prices will skyrocket. I think that the Government should expeditiously commence the Lantau Tomorrow project. When long-term land supply is ensured, the concern in society will naturally be alleviated. Some Members often criticize the Lantau Tomorrow project as being distant water that cannot quench a fire nearby. However, many people of insight do not merely make criticisms. Rather, they come up with new ideas to solve Hong Kong’s problems. According to them, as long as the Government is willing to adopt a new way of thinking and streamline cumbersome administrative procedures, housing projects can be completed well within 10 years. In the medium run, a multi-pronged approach can be adopted to develop brownfield sites and agricultural land to increase land supply. Our young people often envy Singapore’s universal home ownership. In fact, should the Government demonstrate its determination, we can also achieve universal home ownership in the future.

President, I would like to talk about issues that are of concern to the insurance sector. I would like to first declare that I am a senior consultant of Well Link Insurance Group. The Budget proposes to assist the sector in seizing the business opportunities brought by the Greater Bay Area development and the Belt and Road Initiative. In fact, the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area has already proposed the following: supporting joint development in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao of cross-boundary motor vehicle insurance and medical insurance; promoting cross-boundary transactions of insurance products; supporting cross-boundary Renminbi reinsurance business; and supporting the development of a trading platform for international marine insurance. All these are exciting initiatives to the insurance sector. However, the sector also understands that we cannot finish exploring cross-boundary business in one day. The sector will cross the river by groping the stones. We hope to first set up insurance after-sale service centres and implement a Health Insurance Connect scheme in the Greater Bay Area. I have relayed my views to the Government time and again. I hope that the Government will liaise with the relevant departments on the Mainland. In the long run, I hope to see the diversification, expansion and enhancement of cross-boundary insurance business in the Greater Bay Area. As such, the Government should allow all insurance companies registered in Hong Kong, including life and general insurance companies, to enter the Greater Bay Area.

As far as I know, the relevant departments on the Mainland are conducting an in-depth study on the proposal to set up insurance after-sale service centres in the Greater Bay Area. I hope that the proposal can be expeditiously implemented as the first initiative for cross-boundary insurance business in the Greater Bay Area. Since 2005, insurance companies in Hong Kong have given out a total of 1.8 million insurance policies to Mainland customers. With a large number of policyholders, it is natural that after-sale service centres should be set up on the Mainland. The Greater Bay Area can serve as the first pilot point. Following its success, the proposal can be further implemented in other provinces. The proposed after-sale service centres will provide Mainland customers with services such as inquiries, change of address, declaration and submission of claims, thus bringing convenience to customers. In addition, the sector is also striving to implement a Health Insurance Connect scheme in the Greater Bay Area to sell Hong Kong insurance products to residents in the Greater Bay Area through electronic platforms. Its mode of operation can be modelled on that of the Stock Connect programme of Hong Kong.

President, Hong Kong has long lost its status as an international insurance centre. Many international reinsurance companies and international brokerage firms have relocated their regional headquarters to Singapore one after another. The sector is pleased to see that the Government is making active efforts to regain Hong Kong’s status as an insurance hub, but we hope that the Government can commit more resources in this respect. Sufficient talents must be identified for the sector before we can succeed in developing international business. In the past, the insurance sector mainly focused on local business, and therefore there has been a shortage of talents who are familiar with international business. Now, when we are to explore international business, we will need more world-class talents who are familiar with marine insurance, large-scale projects, railways, ports, captive insurance and reinsurance. For this reason, the SAR Government should assist the sector in attracting international talents to come to Hong Kong. The most effective way is to attract large international insurance brokerage firms to establish regional headquarters in Hong Kong, and these firms will bring international professionals here.

Moreover, I propose that an insurance institute be established in the long run. This will not only nurture talents who are well versed in international business but also train professionals for local business to maintain the sustainable development of the insurance sector, and provide young people in Hong Kong with more quality job opportunities.

I so submit.

Scroll to Top