23 May 2019
Following a trip to a community center over the weekend and interacting with some homeless people, CY Leung (inset) suggested that his opponents were to blame for local housing woes. Credits: Facebook, Reuters
Following a trip to a community center over the weekend and interacting with some homeless people, CY Leung (inset) suggested that his opponents were to blame for local housing woes. Credits: Facebook, Reuters

How the cold weather has exposed Leung govt’s shortcomings

Trust Leung Chun-ying to use even the extreme cold weather and the plight of street-sleepers to try to gain some publicity mileage and score a point over his political opponents!

As Hong Kong suffered its lowest temperatures in nearly 60 years, the chief executive visited a community facility over the weekend and interacted with some homeless people who had sought shelter there.

Following the trip, a post was put up on Leung’s Facebook page with the title “Visit to a temporary cold shelter” and showing a picture of the Nan Cheong District Community Centre in Sham Shui Po.

The message informs us that the government has opened cold shelters for those in need, and that Leung visited one such facility after dinner Saturday.

“There were more than ten people taking shelter there. I talked to all except those who had already slept. I know most of them are street-sleepers and they can’t afford the high rents, and that all of them would like public housing flats,” Leung — or whoever posted on his behalf– wrote.

Reminding us of the “need to work hard to build both public and private housing [flats] to improve the housing conditions of Hong Kong people”, Leung used the opportunity to take a swipe at those who were opposing the administration’s new-home construction policy.

“Those people who used any reason to oppose, any methods to stall the government’s plan to change land-use and provide more land for more public housing… should come to the cold shelters to listen to what the street-sleepers said,” Leung wrote.

The comments drew sharp criticism, with netizens accusing Leung of playing politics on the back of homeless people.

There is also suspicion that the visit to the cold shelter was a publicity stunt, with Leung staying there just for 20 minutes — though we are informed that he offered biscuits and hot beverages to the inmates. 

Now, it’s nothing surprising that authorities have opened community centers to serve as temporary cold shelters for street-sleepers.

But what’s quite disturbing that the chief executive will want to use such events to gain political mileage and point fingers at the opposition camp, critics say.

Leung has been putting housing as a key agenda ever since his days in the Executive Council. However, his words haven’t actually been translated into policy.

For example, Leung has said there will be 74,000 new flats supply each year in the next three to four years, a record high for Hong Kong. But his assumption is based only a proposal, not based on the land the government has secured for housing development.

The forecasts seem off key, given that land-usage rules need to be changed before the sites can be released for public housing projects. 

There is no doubt that “not in my backyard” stance — under which some people oppose construction of public housing next to their property — has affected Hong Kong’s land supply for subsidized housing.

But the government cannot pass the buck entirely and blame it on opposition forces.

It is the administration’s duty to communicate with local communities and convince them of the need to accept new housing development plans — an area where Leung and team have been found wanting.

Rather than own up to failures, Leung is trying to shift the focus to the opposition and deflect the blame onto them.

Meanwhile, even with regard to temporary relief measures for the homeless during cold weather, the Leung administration could have done much more, observers say, pointing to several rigid rules. 

Volunteers, for instance, are not allowed to distribute hot rice and drinks inside the temporary cold shelters. They can only do so outside the premises, and all street-sleepers need to queue up in freezing temperatures to receive the food assistance.

Comparisons are being drawn to how Taipei, for example, took much better care of its homeless people during the winter chill.

Municipal authorities in Taipei not only opened temporary cold shelters, they also sent officials to actively urge street-sleepers to move into the shelters. In addition, the government also partnered with the hotel industry to open some hotels to take care of the needy during extreme weather. 

Under Leung’s leadership, the Hong Kong government has failed to rise to the occasion adequately during the extreme cold weather.

Though the Observatory had been warning of severe drop in the mercury, government departments showed lack of preparedness. Hence, we witnessed police and firemen, for instance, struggling to cope with icy road surfaces at Tai Mo Shan as they sought to rescue snowfall enthusiasts.

The Education Bureau, meanwhile, has called for suspension of classes Monday for all kindergartens and primary schools, but not for all schools.

This raises questions as to why other school students had been excluded from the protective measure.

As in the case of other issues recently, such as water contamination at public housing estates, the cold weather has only laid bare the inadequacies of the Leung administration.

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EJ Insight writer

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