Even after an extra eight-hour session on Valentine’s Day, the Legislative Council’s Financial Committee was still unable to approve the funding for the Innovation and Technology Bureau.
I was disappointed, not only with the failure of the funding bill, but also with the fact that members of Legco spent most of their time at the meeting quarreling and pointing the finger at one another — the quarrel continued even after the meeting ended.
I have been trying to bridge the gap among the different factions so as to facilitate a pragmatic dialogue over the pros and cons of setting up the bureau. Unfortunately, things didn’t happen the way I’d hoped.
The controversy over the setting up of the Innovation and Technology Bureau should not have been that ferocious. After all, almost everybody agrees that the promotion of innovative technologies is instrumental in keeping our economy viable.
Almost a year ago, I submitted my proposal regarding this idea to the chief executive and arranged for meetings between pan-democratic lawmakers and members of the technology sector.
I also met with members of the sector who were against setting up the bureau and listened to their worries, hoping to find common ground with them over the issue.
Things could have gone smoothly if it had not been for the government’s mishandling of the funding bill.
In fact, the administration should be held responsible for the impasse, because it tried to manipulate the agenda of the Financial Committee to make sure it passed the funding by withdrawing all the items that preceded the funding proposal for the bureau and demanding extra sessions of the committee.
To make matters worse, the provocative and bellicose rhetoric of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in recent days simply added fuel to the fire and further jeopardized the relationship between the government and Legco.
The Innovation and Technology Bureau became just another victim of the ongoing partisan gridlock in our legislature.
The administration also failed to make good use of opportunities to lobby lawmakers to support the funding bill and address their skepticism.
On numerous occasions during the Financial Committee meetings, officials were unable to answer the questions raised by members or didn’t allow enough time to interact with them.
Nor did they follow up on those questions after the meeting so as to win the support of the skeptical members.
Members of the pro-establishment camp didn’t do anything constructive, either. All they did was slam pan-democrats for filibustering and remind voters to punish these lawmakers in the next elections.
It appeared that the administration and the pro-establishment camp were collaborating to exacerbate the confrontation in Legco so as to create an impression that the pan-democrats were deliberately hampering Leung’s government for their own political purposes.
Most criticism against the Innovation and Technology Bureau focuses on personnel arrangements, its structure, functions and efficiency.
Some reject the idea simply because they don’t trust Leung at all.
Some argue that setting up a new bureau is unnecessary, because there is already an Innovation and Technology Commission in the existing government structure.
In my view, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Leung will put someone he trusts in charge of the bureau once it is approved by Legco, and I don’t have problem with that, as long as this person is truly capable.
As a matter of fact, however, the poor track record of the government in promoting innovative technologies in the past decade has led many to believe that it won’t make much difference even if the bureau is eventually set up.
In my view, the fact that the funding bill for the bureau was once again struck down in Legco can offer our public a fresh opportunity to rethink the importance of innovative technologies to our society.
It is said that the existing Steering Committee on Innovation and Technology is likely to undergo major overhaul soon. If it is true, then it can demonstrate to the public that the administration is really prepared to commit itself to promoting innovative technologies.
However, it should only be the first step toward gaining a public mandate on this issue.
To convince the public, the government must then embark on a major and thorough review of the current policy on promoting innovative technologies and assess the efficiency of the official bodies responsible for it.
And in the course of this review, members of the technology sector, including entreprenuers and frontline workers, must be allowed to play an active role.
From the numerous discussions I had with members of the technology sector, some of whom were against setting up the bureau, and some of whom were not, we came to the conclusion that it was important for the government to set up a research and innovation benchmark to measure local research results on innovative technologies.
The benchmark should be based on the existing Hong Kong Innovation Activities Statistics, the Innovation Union Scoreboard of the European Union and the Innovation Index of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The government should also be more proactive in inviting views from workers in the technology sector about how it can promote innovative technologies more effectively.
If the government can use this opportunity to review its policy, set new goals and put forward new proposals, it might be easier for people with different views to reach a consensus the next time the administration submits its funding bill for the Innovation and Technology Bureau to Legco.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 16.
Translation by Alan Lee
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