Paradigm shift in Government to respond to changing economy

The Government is responding to the fundamental structural changes to our economy with a 'paradigm shift' of its own, both administratively and attitudinally, the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr John Tsang said today (October 20).


Speaking at the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors' Annual Conference 2001, Mr Tsang said that at a time when Hong Kong is experiencing changes to our economy, expectation towards the role of Government among our people has also changed.


By using the example of one of the Planning and Lands Bureau's principal priorities in developing a safe and decent built environment for everyone in our community, he shared with the conference participants his experience on how to turn the challenges confronting the Bureau into opportunities.


Mr Tsang said that the Bureau has embarked on a programme to modernize building rules and regulations to complement the efforts in building maintenance and clearing unauthorized building works.


"In this connection, the Government has launched a comprehensive review of the Buildings Ordinance earlier this year," he added.


"So far, we have identified a number of items to be included in the first tranche of legislative amendments to the Buildings Ordinance," he said, noting that these items include:


* the introduction of a "minor works" category on top of the existing "building works" and "exempted works" in order to improve the quality of control over minor works;


* transforming a number of prescriptive standards in Building (Planning) Regulations to performance-based requirements; and


* deleting a number of obsolete provisions.


In modernizing building regulations, he said that the Government has a vision of a vastly improved built environment in the years to come.


"Buildings will be properly designed, properly managed and properly maintained. Our built forms will be creative, people-oriented and functional. We are relying on the profession to successfully achieve this goal.


"In addition, we are relying on the profession to help minimize bureaucracy and to enhance administrative efficiency.


"We are now critically examining the role of Government in the regulatory process in order to identify more room to entrust greater responsibility to the building profession," Mr Tsang said.


He said that the Government has always been acting as the inspector in the construction process and this has taken up an inordinate amount of time and resources. As rules and regulations multiply, so has our bureaucracy.


"This is not acceptable," Mr Tsang said.


"From time to time, we hear building professionals complaining about the difficulties in securing approval for their submissions. In my short tenure as Secretary for Planning and Lands, I have heard repeated calls to simplify our vetting process.


"I am sympathetic to these urgings, and I believe that as Government, we need to change our role from an enforcer to a facilitator," he said.


The Buildings Department is currently formulating proposals to achieve this.


"We intend to reduce the number of items to be checked by Government, giving the private practitioner responsibility to verify compliance for the rest.


"In principle, the practitioner will need only provide a 'concept plan' to demonstrate the strategy to be adopted for the key issues to satisfy the legal requirements. The practitioner will have to verify the rest according to his professional standards.


"This will save time and resources for all concerned. We will return the steer to the practitioner and that is where it belongs.


"We believe that this arrangement would enhance the partnership between private practitioners and Government. They can act as the extended 'Building Authority' while the Government as the auditor," Mr Tsang explained.


He also said that the Government is looking into the feasibility of accepting computer calculations on floor area in substitution for a separate set of hard copy calculations prepared by authorized persons.


When established, this will be another big step towards having the plan submission and checking process conducted through electronic means.


End/Saturday, October 20, 2001