22 April 2019
John Tsang has unveiled proposals in his election platform that could profoundly affect Hong Kong's housing market, tax regime and free speech. Photo: HKEJ
John Tsang has unveiled proposals in his election platform that could profoundly affect Hong Kong's housing market, tax regime and free speech. Photo: HKEJ

John Tsang unveils Singapore-style election platform

Hong Kong chief executive contender John Tsang unveiled an aggressive election platform on Monday. If he manages to implement most of his proposals, these could bring about sweeping changes.

Interestingly, many of his policy suggestions are reminiscent of Singapore’s approach.

Tsang vows to increase the ratio of Hongkongers living in public housing to 60 percent, covering both public rental flats and flats under the subsidized Home Ownership Scheme, a plan that will reshape Hong Kong’s housing market which is dominated by private housing.

Nearly 80 percent of the population in Singapore live in public housing units while only 20 percent live in private flats.

The percentage of Hongkongers in public housing has been declining since 2000, falling to 45.6 percent in 2015 from 48.7 percent in 2005, according to the Housing Authority.

To achieve his target, Tsang needs to build 420,000 more public housing units to accommodate an additional 1.05 million people, assuming the population stays at 7.3 million with an average family size of 2.5 persons.

That will be equivalent to supplying 84,000 new flats each year during a five-year term.

Suppose Tsang has 10 years to meet the target, he still needs to build 42,000 public housing units a year, more than double the annual new public housing supply at present.

The former financial secretary also unveiled a bold tax reform plan, including a “two-tier” progressive profits tax and a “negative income tax” aimed at lessening the burden on small and medium-sized enterprises and underprivileged families. That’s also quite similar to Singapore’s thinking.

Tsang’s plan would help ease the wealth gap, but it may undermine the competitiveness of Hong Kong, where its simple, low tax regime has always been a key attraction.

On the political front, Tsang raised eyebrows with his stance on the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law.

“The Basic Law has now been implemented in Hong Kong for close to 20 years. There is no reason for the HKSAR government to delay the enactment of local legislation in accordance with Article 23 any longer,” Tsang said.

He pledged to restart the electoral reform process and revive the legislative work, and said the “831 decision” would be the starting point.

The “831 decision” refers to the framework on political reform set out by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on Aug. 31, 2014.

The enactment of legislation to protect national security has been one of the hot-button issues in Hong Kong.

The Tung Chee-hwa administration was forced to shelve the bill in 2003 after half a million people took to the streets in protest. Leung Chun-ying also made little progress with political reform.

Assuming Tsang can pull it off,  the legislation of Article 23 might curb freedom of speech. A person who makes remarks deemed to threaten national security could be imprisoned as happened to Amos Pang Sang Yee in Singapore.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 7

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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