18 October 2019
The ‘Lantau Tomorrow Vision’ project, unveiled by Carrie Lam in her latest policy address, will spark a new round of heated debates in Hong Kong on land supply options. Photo: HKEJ
The ‘Lantau Tomorrow Vision’ project, unveiled by Carrie Lam in her latest policy address, will spark a new round of heated debates in Hong Kong on land supply options. Photo: HKEJ

Lam’s Lantau plan has both pan-dems and pro-Beijing camp on edge

Compared to her maiden 2017 policy address, which closely resembled her campaign rhetoric during the Chief Executive race, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s annual speech this year appears to be a lot more ambitious.

In particular, the colossal “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” project put forward by her grabbed the news headlines the following day. It is expected that the plan will spark a new round of heated debates in society, seemingly even more intense than the discussion on land supply that was spearheaded by a special task force over the past six months.

However, as it turns out, Lam’s latest Policy Address has got mixed response from the public, grossing only 48.5 points in satisfaction rating in the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong, even lower than that garnered by the final policy speech of her predecessor Leung Chun-ying.

Furthermore, while the astronomical cost of her mega land reclamation proposal has set the pan-democrats on edge, it is said that her plan is also putting pro-establishment lawmakers in a pretty awkward and difficult position when it comes to casting their votes for the “motion of thanks” in the Legislative Council.

According to routine Legco procedure, chairman of the House Committee will move a “motion of thanks” in the council after the chief executive has delivered the year’s policy speech.

As a moderate pan-dem has put it, while the “radical wing” of the legislature is clearly against the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” project, the other three blocs in the pan-democratic camp are also feeling substantial pressure, and the chances of them voting against the motion of thanks next month are not low.

In fact some in the political circles have mocked that Lam has simply stuck a bull’s eye on her back by proposing such a huge, multi-billion dollar infrastructure plan in one go instead of rolling out the initiative bit by bit.

A pro-democracy lawmaker has also pointed out that the reason why Lam’s Policy Address is so poorly received among the public is that a lot of citizens just don’t feel they can benefit tangibly from her new policy initiatives.

“For example, the gigantic artificial islands won’t materialize until at least 10 to 20 years later. While the Policy Address proposes to subsidize bus companies on cross-harbor tunnel tolls, it seeks to raise the tolls on average motorists using the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. The average motorists have to help finance the tunnel companies and bus companies. How can anybody possibly call that fair?” the pan-dem lawmaker remarked.

Nevertheless, some in the government have insisted that the majority of the public are still in favor of land reclamation.

Yet they also concede that the concern raised by those opposing the plan about the potential drain on government financial reserves does strike a chord among society. In addition, in Hong Kong, large-scale infrastructure projects make it easier for people to associate them with “white elephants”.

As such, the administration has its task cut out as it needs to do more to further explain to the public why the reclamation plan is worth pursuing, aiming for public support.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 1

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.