Emergency Measures to Allay Public Resentment Immediately
MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):
President, Article 4 of Chapter I (General Principles) of the Basic Law clearly stipulates that the SAR Government shall safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents and of other persons in accordance with law; Article 6 states that the Government shall protect the right of private ownership of property; Article 14 of Chapter II of the Basic Law stipulates that the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be responsible for the maintenance of public order in the Region. Yet, over the past five months, many members of the public have been forced to stay at home during weekends, or even every day for the past few days. They could not go out for shopping or meals. A friend told me that he was watching a dance show at the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui earlier and the show had to end halfway. It is a pity that law-abiding citizens have lost the freedoms and rights conferred on them under the Basic Law as a result of others’ pursuit of their version of freedom.
When it comes to the protection of private ownership of property, it is even more frustrating. Basically, every Saturday and Sunday, and every day for the past few days, the same episode is played out in various districts, shopping malls or shops on the streets. The targets include restaurants under certain groups or some retail outlets or shops financed by China capital. The glass fronts of these shops were completely smashed. The furniture and goods were also vandalized or even set ablaze.
Both the aforesaid situations have infuriated members of the public. The Chief Secretary has mentioned in his reply some measures already introduced. Secretary John LEE said yesterday that the Police would introduce three emergency measures, meaning that the matter was again placed under the charge of the Police. May I ask what emergency measures will be introduced by other government departments, so as to protect people’s freedom of living and property? For example, what will the Food and Health Bureau, the Transport and Housing Bureau and the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau do in such aspects as clearing road barricades, resuming traffic and maintaining business operations?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese):
Which public officer will give a reply? Chief Secretary for Administration, please.
CHIEF SECRETARY FOR ADMINISTRATION (in Cantonese):
First of all, President, I thank Mr CHAN Chun-ying for his question. I will defer to Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward YAU for a further explanation on the role of his bureau later.
First of all, we fully understand the situation described by the Honourable Member just now. We are also Hongkongers. We feel the same way and clearly know what happens every week. We definitely cannot allow the current situation to persist. We should really get together as soon as possible. We, irrespective of our stances, should get together and say “no” to violence. It is only when there is a return to calm can we have room for more dialogue to further mend the divide.
Second, the Member has asked about the efforts made by other Secretaries of Departments and Bureaux, departments or Offices of Secretaries, or Secretaries and other departments, apart from the heavy frontline duties carried out by the Police. We have made clarifications on multiple occasions. The Police Force, as a law enforcement department positioned at the forefront, are definitely the first to bear the brunt of it. To the Police, it is actually a mission. Law enforcement is their bounden duty and mission. Hence, in this incident, they are under enormous pressure on the front line. We recognize their efforts as they are bearing enormous pressure.
Nevertheless, we will not let colleagues in the Police Force take on it alone, nor will we let them fight the bitter battle on their own. Every one of our 100 000-odd civil servants from various Policy Bureaux will work with one heart and one mind. The Member has just cited a very good example. For instance, what have we done in the clearance of roads? The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (“FEHD”) and the Highways Department (“HyD”), despite the large amount of rubbish, burnt items, vandalized lamp posts, etc. left at the scenes every time after a disturbance, managed to clear most of the roads the next morning. Why? Because colleagues of FEHD and HyD will take over the scenes vacated by the Police and undertake the clearance work strenuously round the clock to make sure that the roads will be open for traffic as early as possible the next morning. This is the first point.
Second, 24-hour operation has become a norm for colleagues of the Transport Department. They have a surveillance centre that operates round the clock. For instance, repairs had to be arranged as soon as they identified damage to a few hundred sets of traffic lights, or else it would cause considerable disruption and might result in traffic accidents if delayed, which would be extremely dangerous. These are ongoing efforts made on the front line.
Colleagues of other departments also work at the back, and for operational reasons, we are not in a position to divulge the details. But we are all supporting the work of the Police, including the 100 colleagues from the Correctional Services Department who have volunteered for transfer to the Police Force as special constables as mentioned by Secretary John LEE yesterday. This series of work showcases our team spirit. The Immigration Department also has a part to play. Civilian staff also play their part just as officers in the disciplined services do. Insofar as resource coordination is concerned, in case of a lack of resources of any kind in the Police Force, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau will address the issue. Regarding small and medium enterprises, the Financial Secretary has rolled out a third round of helping measures to “support enterprises, safeguard jobs and relieve people’s burden”. I now defer to Secretary Edward YAU for some supplementary remarks.
SECRETARY FOR COMMERCE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (in Cantonese):
President, good morning. I thank Mr CHAN Chun-ying for his question.
The outbreak of violent clashes in society has inflicted tremendous impact on many normal commercial and trade activities and even our daily life. This is not a matter related merely to money or business operation, but Hong Kong society is indeed in need of these activities, such as members of the public going out to purchase daily necessities for their daily life; and we also have to go to work, etc. Therefore, our colleagues responsible for dealing with trade or economic policies within the Government would also work with the Security Bureau or other frontline colleagues. This is a difficult task, because if shops are wantonly vandalized by rioters, we really have to rely on the Police to take law enforcement actions, and we must discuss with the business sector on the direct or indirect impact caused by such incidents. The direct impact may be that when the shops have been vandalized, some of them would rely on insurance, whereas some others would rely on strengthening their defensive measures. There would also be coordination and communication among departments to find out the best way to undertake follow-up work in the aftermath. I can recall that we did make further improvements after Honourable Members had raised their relevant views in the past.
Nevertheless, the indirect impact is often much more profound than the direct one, because when not only one single shop has been vandalized, but a great many shops are attacked extensively by people for unknown reasons, without any reasonable excuse, and it is also difficult to make comprehensive prevention, other people would actually become panic-stricken, and members of the public patronizing these shops or shopping malls would also be exposed to the same threat. Therefore, another enormous indirect impact has thus arisen also on this front, as we have seen a slump in all economic figures with very significant rates of decline. Just now the Chief Secretary for Administration also mentioned that, in addition to the countercyclical measures implemented when we expected the economy to be subject to downside risks at the beginning of the year, the Government introduced some measures in each of the three months from August through October, with some of them being worked out with the assistance of Mr CHAN, such as the mortgage loans up to the 90% loan-to-value ratio and measures to ease cash flow problems. We would always discuss with the trades when carrying out all of our work, and I also mentioned, in reply to a question here yesterday, that we would work through the relevant sectors, chambers of commerce―some of them are of a small scale―Members present in this Chamber representing their sector, or sit down with representatives of the relevant sectors to discuss what can be done, and we will then go ahead with such measures.
We have also implemented targeted measures apart from the cash flow problems I mentioned yesterday. Business has been deeply dampened under such circumstances, and the tourism industry, for instance, is the first to bear the brunt. How can we assist the tourism industry then? Yet, the means to provide assistance is not without limitations, and simply put, resources are one of them. In this fiscal year (i.e. from now up to 31 March next year), I will fully utilize all resources, but I still need to secure the approval of the Legislative Council for some parts of them. We will deploy all of the funding available to take forward measures under my purview. However, for some measures that require new resources, such as those measures to support small and medium enterprises for which approval by the Panel on Commerce and Industry has been obtained when I came to the Legislative Council recently, we are waiting for the approval of the Legislative Council upon its resumption of normal operation. But these measures may be listed as the 40th-something item on the agenda. Therefore, insofar as the implementation of measures is concerned, it is the usual practice of the Government to discuss with the trades all the way, and those reasonable and practical ones would be implemented. Yet, I must emphasize that no measure can turn around the current situation completely.
The damage to Hong Kong’s reputation is another kind of indirect impact, and it involves not simply a name. Being an international financial city, Hong Kong stands as one of the three major financial centers in the world. Everyone would have much concern over the safety of a place when making investments. In addition, it is very reasonable for be it the large enterprises and local people in the city, or foreigners coming to Hong Kong, they need to feel that Hong Kong is a safe and reasonable city. This is the greatest challenge before us. In this regard, we will still put in efforts every day. For instance, if the representative offices of overseas entities in Hong Kong have any misgivings, my colleagues and I will meet with them to have discussions and give explanations. Having said that, we must act on the basis of facts, as violent incidents have indeed occurred in the city and the Police are very busy dealing with them. We also have to respond to other media which may not be able to obtain accurate information, or they may only see part of the situation, or they may have their own stances, so they may make negative reports that would tarnish Hong Kong’s international image. We need to respond to these situations as well.
Moreover, we together with colleagues of the 13 overseas offices, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the Hong Kong Tourism Board will continue to give explanations, and we cannot stop carrying out the work of maintaining Hong Kong’s international image in the meantime. We will certainly answer their enquiries in a down-to-earth manner. In this connection, our entire team is happy to listen to any positive views put forward by Members that can assist the industries as a whole, and we will join hands with Members to make the relevant endeavours.