Motion on “Requesting the Government to Overcome the ‘Three Big Mountains’ in Poeple’s Livelihood” (2019.04.04)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): President, it can be said that there are a multitude of problems in society today, in addition to the “three big mountains”. The “three big mountains” mentioned by Ms Alice MAK, namely, the Link Real Estate Investment Trust (“Link REIT”), the MTR Corporation Limited (“MTRCL”) and the offsetting mechanism of the Mandatory Provident Fund (“MPF”), are only several of the numerous problems plaguing members of the public.

Among the “three big mountains”, MTRCL has the most problems which have immediate impacts on the public. Insofar as members of the public are concerned, MTRCL has three problems: first, the problem with the execution of railway works; second, occurrence of train incidents in the day-to-day operation; and third, continuous increases in fares. After years of operation, both the software and hardware of MTRCL have become aged. Moreover, during the peak hours, the train frequency stands at about two minutes. Such a high frequency has imposed a heavy burden on the entire system. For this reason, MTRCL keeps upgrading the system and renewing the hardware, but it cannot enclose the whole stations for maintenance. It can only undertake the repairs one by one at night. We have seen the hard work of the frontline staff. Moreover, it is hard to avoid incidents. Therefore, on the one hand, society has to ensure that MTRCL will carry out the rectification and updating work properly, but at the same time, members of the public should be encouraged to be more tolerant and understanding, while the Government has to reflect on the need to identify room for improvement in the transport policy of using railway as the backbone. The problem with the execution of works obviously shows a lack of supervision by the relevant parties. It is time for the new Chief Executive Officer and the Chairman of MTRCL to carry out a drastic reform.

On the problem of fares, since 2010, MTRCL has already raised the fares nine times in accordance with the Fare Adjustment Mechanism (“FAM”) which allows both upward and downward adjustments. The accumulated increase is 33.5%. No wonder members of the public feel infuriated. In fact, the Government must consider revising FAM. This mechanism was introduced back then during Hong Kong’s economic downturn. The original intent was to oblige MTRCL to lower the fares when the economic condition was poor. However, since the recovery of Hong Kong economy, the economic condition has never turned worse. Consequently, the fares have only increased and never decreased. Even though MTRCL makes enormous profits, it can still raise the fares every year. Hence, this mechanism warrants a review.

Currently, the Government has launched the non-means-tested Public Transport Fare Subsidy Scheme to subsidize members of the public who need to travel a long distance to go to work. Public grievances have thus been alleviated. But this scheme actually uses the dividends of MTRCL to subsidize the public. The Government holds 75% of the shares of MTRCL, but it wishes MTRCL to operate in a commercial mode, so it uses the dividends to subsidize the public. This is a good approach. However, when the income of MTRCL keeps rising, the subsidy should be extended to short-haul passengers.

Another “big mountain” is the MPF offsetting mechanism. Now we are waiting for the Government to present the latest proposal for the abolition of the MPF offsetting mechanism. I wish to emphasize that in abolishing the offsetting mechanism, it is also necessary to consider the views of the business sector because back then, the Government had traded such a mechanism for the support of the business sector for the MPF System. Now that the offsetting mechanism is to be abolished, it should give an account to the business sector. Moreover, in the employer-employee relationship, the two parties should complement each other. They should not be confrontational. Everything should be discussed and settled in a frank and open manner. Meanwhile, the new proposal should also take the affordability of micro, small and medium enterprises into account.

The last “big mountain” is Link REIT. In fact, Link REIT has precisely demonstrated the difference between operation by the Government and that by the business sector. Operation by the Government suffers low efficiency, but it can cater for the needs of the community, whereas operation by the business sector enjoys high efficiency, but very often, its goal is to make the greatest profit with community needs being accorded a lower priority. It is only natural that Link REIT, currently operating for maximization of its profits, is not welcomed by the community. There is the suggestion of buying back Link REIT. It is even suggested that the Government should amend the law to regulate the rate of rental increase in shopping malls and markets under Link REIT. Frankly, these approaches, particularly the proposed buyback, are quite inappropriate. The share price of Link REIT has already risen substantially. If the Government now buys back the shares of Link REIT, it will only push up its share price, benefiting Link REIT. It may also prompt more people to follow suit.

Actually, under the market economy, the best approach is to “set up another stove” to compete with Link REIT direct. Hence, the current construction of more public markets in the community by the Government and setting up of bazaars as proposed by Members are effective and pragmatic approaches. Nevertheless, members of the public will have to wait longer to enjoy alternative services. Besides, the Government should firmly compel Link REIT to fulfil the responsibilities undertaken by the latter when signing the sale and purchase agreement with the Government back then.

President, apart from these three “big mountains”, there are many other important livelihood issues which need to be addressed as matters of urgency. In my opinion, another “big mountain” is the problem of health care. At present, there is a shortage of doctors, nurses and hospital beds in the public health care system. Private hospital beds are not sufficient either, and some doctors even charge excessive fees. Regrettably, the Government has been constrained by doctors’ hegemony. Now it wishes to introduce overseas doctors to resolve the pressing need, but it has been rebuffed repeatedly. Yesterday, the Medical Council of Hong Kong (“MCHK”) discussed four proposals for exempting overseas doctors from internship, but surprisingly, all of them were vetoed in a secret ballot. No wonder the Chairman of MCHK criticized some members of not walking the talk. Actually that they could oppose such matters having a bearing on the well-being of all the people of Hong Kong is thus evident how awful the doctors’ hegemony is. I believe the people of Hong Kong keenly expect the Government to do something to remove this “big mountain” of doctors’ hegemony.

Lastly, I hold that another huge “mountain” is the housing problem. For this reason, we should expeditiously launch the Lantau Tomorrow programme. The aim is to provide housing for everyone like Singapore does, thus genuinely meeting the people’s need. Even if we have to wait for 10 years, it is still worthwhile so long as it can truly resolve the housing problem and end the people’s suffering. I believe the more the truth is debated, the clearer it becomes. The community at large has come to understand the need to adopt the practice of Singapore. Reclamation for creation of land is the most effective way to resolve the housing problem. However, regarding the motion today―all the Honourable colleagues on that side have left―to my surprise, some Members alleged that the Lantau Tomorrow programme is tantamount to dumping money into the sea. I could not help wondering in my mind: Just when the people see a glimpse of hope, why do these Members wish to shatter their hope and use such an excuse to obstruct the creation of land and construction of housing? Do they wish to make members of the public continue to suffer? Pondering over this question, sometimes I really find it lamentable. When members of the public vote, would it not be better for them to carefully select candidates who truly appreciate the people’s needs, rather than those who would prevent the public from getting what they deserve owing to political needs? I really hope that members of the public will seriously consider their choice when casting their votes in future elections. I so submit.

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