United we build the future
In view of the intensely competitive environment due to global economic integration, the Government attaches great importance to enhancing Hong Kong’s competitiveness to ensure the sound development of our economy in the long run. One of our major tasks is to promote various infrastructure works, which will not only enhance our competitiveness, but also boost our economic growth and create a better living environment for the community. With the commencement of the new legislative session, the Public Works Subcommittee (PWSC) held its first meeting to scrutinise works projects in early December. At the meeting, the Government gave notice that 39 new works projects worth about $90 billion will be submitted to the Legislative Council (LegCo) in this legislative session.
Infrastructure tied in with development to benefit people’s livelihood
I notice that there are different voices in society about the Government’s resources allocated for our infrastructure. However, let us put aside our political disputes for the moment and think about the situation from a rational and macro perspective. At present, the community’s demand for public facilities is keen, the supply of land and housing units is tight, the railway and road networks are close to be saturated, and the hospital beds are insufficient. How can we sit back and do nothing to these issues? Moreover, many of our neighbouring cities are developing fast and striving to enhance their competitiveness and living standard. Are we contented to lag behind them? Therefore, to tie in with the current demands of Hong Kong and its future social and economic development, as well as to enhance our competitiveness and living environment, a number of major works projects are underway or on the pipeline, including a number of New Development Area programmes, the Tung Chung New Town extension, the development of North Lantau, the target of supplying 460 000 housing units in the coming 10 years, the three-runway system at the Hong Kong International Airport, the extension project of seven railway lines, as well as the 10-year hospital development plan worth $200 billion. There are also various projects at the district level covering leisure and cultural facilities, water supply, as well as drainage and road works. Every one of them will benefit people’s livelihood.
Filibustering will cause nothing but harm
Looking back, the Government used to submit to the LegCo funding proposals for new works projects worth up to tens of billions of dollars every year, and would secure its support most of the time. Since 2013-14, however, the filibustering by some of the LegCo members has made our work extremely difficult. The most classic episode took place in 2013-14, when we originally planned to apply to the LegCo for some $50 billion of funding for new works projects, but only $3.6 billion was approved eventually. The situation in subsequent years was not favourable either. More often than not, funding proposals for many works projects were not approved until the very end of the legislative session in a hurry, thus delaying the commencement of works and disrupting the timeframe for tendering works contracts. This has led to confusion in the construction industry and affected the livelihood of the practitioners, and the public could not enjoy the benefits of these projects in a timely manner.
This Wednesday, the PWSC will scrutinise the funding applications for new works projects for the first time in this legislative session. We hope that the new term of the LegCo will buck the undesirable trend of filibustering in the past, scrutinise the projects tabled by the Government in a pragmatic manner and strive for the launch of works programmes as scheduled, so that the public can enjoy the results as soon as possible. We will keep in view the implementation progress of various works projects from time to time to ensure that public money has been properly spent.
Easing manpower shortage through both supply and demand
As the saying goes, “You cannot make bricks without straw”. A strong and elite construction team is indispensable to meeting the enormous demand for construction. However, although the Government has in recent years collaborated with the Construction Industry Council (CIC) to take the proactive steps to recruit new workers and enhance their training to increase manpower supply, the fact remains that we are short of skilled workers. According to the estimation by the CIC, there will still be a shortage of some 10 000 to 15 000 skilled workers in the coming years. Hong Kong has faced similar problem of manpower shortage before. Take the Hong Kong Airport Core Programme in the 1990s as an example. Knowing that the construction workers in the market were not sufficient to cope with the additional demand of this mega infrastructure project, the Government implemented exceptional measures in exceptional circumstances by introducing a labour importation scheme for this project. Without affecting local workers’ livelihood, the scheme eventually allowed the entire works project to be completed and brought into operation as scheduled, and has accomplished its historic mission. With the challenges now facing Hong Kong, can we all put aside our steadfast views, build mutual trust in the spirit of mutual understanding and explore ways to solve the pressing problems?
Apart from increasing manpower supply, we will continue to encourage the adoption of mechanisation and standardisation, as well as the wider use of prefabrication in the construction industry. We will also promote the enhanced application of the Building Information Modelling in the industry, and increase productivity by proactively referring to overseas innovative construction methods and techniques, so that Hong Kong’s construction industry can become more modernised and vibrant.
Working together for the future of Hong Kong
According to the latest forecast released by the CIC a few days ago, the overall construction expenditure in Hong Kong over the next few years will reach the level of about $240 billion to $320 billion annually. In view of such robust development, both the construction industry and its practitioners have an important role to play. Apart from continuing their earnest efforts for the future development of Hong Kong, they should also constantly pursue self-enhancement and keep abreast of the times.
To successfully improve the living environment of the community and bring Hong Kong further and farther amid intense competition, we cannot indulge in empty talk and stand still. All members of our society, including government officials, lawmakers, construction industry practitioners and the general public, should stand united and committed to pursuing the interests of and creating a better future for Hong Kong. Let us work together to support our infrastructure development and contribute to building a better Hong Kong.
Overview of the potential capital works items to be submitted to the PWSC in this LegCo session:
Construction expenditure forecast of the CIC:
18 December, 2016