Since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, the city has been struggling to develop its own information technology sector as a pillar of its economy.
Today the sector has become the latest arena in the protracted political struggle between Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and pan-democratic members of the Legislative Council.
CY Leung is seeking funding approval from Legco within this month to establish an Innovation and Technology Bureau, one of his key election campaign platforms in 2012.
However, his request is being opposed by some pan-democrats, who noted that the government has set aside more important budget bills to make way for the bureau’s funding request.
There is clearly a lack of trust between the two sides. CY Leung believes that the pan-democratic camp is intent on blocking the proposal simply because they want to oppose the government. He warned the legislators that the public would remember them for trying to cause the “premature death” of the bureau.
On the other hand, the opposition looks at the proposal as another attempt by CY Leung to show his capability to lead and govern Hong Kong. They doubt if the development of the IT sector is really his intention in pushing the proposal.
Amid the opposition, pro-establishment lawmakers are expected to rush the approval of the funding request to prevent pan-democrats from undertaking another filibustering strategy to block the proposal as the Feb. 14 deadline nears.
Actually, this is CY Leung’s second attempt to push the proposal. As early as 2012, CY Leung failed to win Legco approval for his government restructuring plan, which included the setting up of the bureau.
Pan-democrats insist that the government has not satisfactorily explained why Hong Kong needs the bureau, and how the proposal can help the IT sector.
CY Leung, on the other hand, will enjoin pro-establishment lawmakers to follow his policy agenda. It’s part of his bid to demonstrate to Beijing his strong leadership in Hong Kong.
In fact, several pro-Beijing lawmakers like Paul Tse stressed that “the government will do all it can do to achieve the goal”, effectively saying that it doesn’t give a hoot about Legco’s responsibility to monitor the government.
Members of the public are not sure whether Hong Kong really needs a dedicated bureau for technology development, given that the city’s IT sector has been transforming itself through the years following the global trend.
The government has established Cyberport and Science Park, which have become symbolic hardware for the Hong Kong technology sector. But most of the local start-up companies are struggling on their own to explore the global market and attract investors.
Apart from building the two technology centers, the government has really played a very small role in the development of the IT sector. And this is the reason why many pan-democrats doubt if establishing a technology bureau will make any difference.
Over the years, government officials have been spouting motherhood statements about the need to develop the city’s technology sector. But the industry itself is developing so fast that most government programs to help in its development will always lag behind.
What the government should do is to promote Hong Kong’s technology sector as well as its products in the global market, rather than spend multimillion dollars every year to fund a bureau that by its very structure will not be able to cope with the fast-changing trends in the industry.
In fact, the government should refrain from pursuing programs that simply provide doleouts and direct subsidies to private investment projects in the sector for that would only encourage dependence and stagnance, rather than risk-taking and thinking out of the box.
Given this situation, pan-democrats should stand their ground and insist that the government provide a detailed explanation on how the bureau will be able to help in the development of the IT sector. After all, it is their duty to monitor government policies and programs.
Whatever is said about Legco, the pan-democratic camp should do everything within its power to disprove the widespread impression that the institution is simply a rubber stamp.
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