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Rein in the horse at the brink


The society is paying a heavy price for the continuous violent acts, vandalism and malicious nuisance in the past four months. Citizens may have to spend a few more hours for travelling. They also have to worry about their personal safety and live in anxiety and fear. Retail and catering sectors have been suffering a heavy blow as consumer sentiment turns gloomy. Business and sales dropped significantly. Weekends and holidays were popular shopping time in the past, but now shops are forced to close earlier or even for the whole day. Worst still, some shops become targets of bullying and face serious nuisance, fire attack and severe damage, causing threat to the safety of the staff.

The retail industry expressed that, some shops have to close down or lay off workers at no choice. The catering industry said that around a hundred restaurants have been closed and about 2 000 staff were affected. A number of mega local events, such as the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival, the Hong Kong Cyclothon, the Hong Kong Cross Harbour Race and a few sport events have been called off due to security concerns.

Despite different demands and views in the society, we should all know after these days that violence is never a solution. Any attempt for “mutual destruction” will only further hit the economy, the business of different sectors and the livelihood of our workforce. Our society has no more capital for a continued split. To sail through the unprecedented difficulty, we have to stop the violence and restore order quickly.  The Government, various sectors of the community and every one of us should set aside the dispute and move forward to support each other during the hard times.

In the past few months, I have been emphasising the slow economic growth, as our economy is technically entering into a recession. Learning from past experience, prolonged negative economic growth will jack up the unemployment rate. We should keep an eye on the employment market in the coming future.

In order to support enterprises and safeguard jobs, I launched a series of measures with a total of $19.1 billion in August, in which tenants of government properties will receive a rent reduction of 50 per cent for six months.  The rental reduction has come into effect. To echo the Government's call, the Hong Kong Housing Society, the Hong Kong Housing Authority, the Science Park, the Cyperport and Ecopark have announced rental concessions for six months.

I have also communicated with the MTR Corporation (MTR), the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AA), the Link and owners of some large-scale shopping malls.  They all understand the difficult situation and are willing to support affected tenants to alleviate their operating pressure.

The MTR has offered rental adjustment solutions to shops experiencing harder hit and would, depend on the situation, offer relief solutions to other tenants. Furthermore, the MTR will offer rent refund to tenants whose shops were forced to close during closure of stations.  On top of the spending rebate programme launched earlier on, the AA is considering measures to alleviate tenants’ pressure. The Link is now collecting data to assess the impact of recent events on its tenants and will prepare solution to ease their pressure at the earliest time.  

I hope that landlords and developers will also consider different measures, such as rent reduction, rent-free period or other means that could alleviate the operating pressure of their tenants and, at the same time, to sail through the gigantic challenges brought by global economic slow-down and the social incidents. 

With concerted efforts, we can stop violence and support the economy together.

A number of supporting measures that I announced in mid-August require funding approval by the Legislative Council before implementation. These include paying one month's rent for tenants living in the public rental units, providing an extra one-month allowance to social security recipients, providing funding support to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and introduction of a new loan guarantee product under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme (SFGS), under which the Government will provide for a 90% guarantee for approved loans, etc.

In addition, a lot of public works items were piled up in the last Legislative session, including 28 items which have received support from the Public Works Subcommittee but are waiting for approval from Finance Committee.  These items involve an estimated project cost of over $70 billion and will create 14 000 openings which are closely related to people's livelihood.  Currently, quite a number of construction workers are underemployed. The salary of individual trades, such as bricklaying and metal formwork has dropped and is affecting the livelihood of workers. These works projects should commence without further delay.

Although we are facing tremendous challenges, our experience in the previous decades tells us that, as long as we embrace the challenge, learn from it and make improvement, we can turn into a better and more competitive Hong Kong. The rating agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) still affirmed “AA+” credit ratings on Hong Kong, which was the second highest rating in the agency, with a stable outlook. S&P stated that strong economic and financial metrics will allow the government's credit standing to withstand the fallout from ongoing social incidents.  In addition, Hong Kong climbs from seven to third in World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2019. In which, macro-economic stability, health, product market and financial system were ranked at first globally.

Dear citizens, despite the different views and standpoints, it is utmost important for us to stop violence, threat and conflict, and let our society return to a peaceful and rational manner. On one hand, it helps restore social order and people’s daily routine; On the other hand, we can find a way out through dialogue. We have to make sure that people could express their views without fear or subject to intimidation and malicious nuisance. The Government will spare no effort in providing support to employers and SMEs to mitigate impacts brought by the uncertain economy. We need a stable society to support the economy, and the support from every citizen is indispensable. Only if we work together can we find a way out for Hong Kong and build a better tomorrow.

13 October, 2019