Private sector can facilitate poverty alleviation: Lau
Updated: 2017-05-26 06:02
By Joseph Li in Hong Kong(HK Edition)
Discussing the three focus areas of this year's LUI Che Woo Prize, Professor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee - an economist and chairman of the Prize Recommendation Committee - emphasized the need to lift people out of poverty, assist them to help themselves and improve the standard of living - hence the second area of focus, poverty alleviation.
In his view, governments in most cases needed to initiate anti-poverty efforts but can't do everything - the private sector can help too.
For instance, the government should provide care to needy people, teach them skills and create job opportunities instead of simply giving cash handouts to them.
"You need to teach the people how to catch fish, rather than give them fish," he advised.
He cited examples from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong. Before economic reforms on the mainland began in 1978, the per capita GDP was $300 per year or less than $1 a day. Citing statistics, he said more than 500 million mainland people have been lifted out from poverty over the past 40 years.
"The economic opening-up on the mainland has made a whole lot of differences. Farmers were able to do their own farming, while people from the rural areas could find work to gain steady income or engage in various types of businesses in the cities, with Alibaba and Tencent being classic examples of private enterprises which have seized the opportunity to develop," he noted.
In the early years, Hong Kong used to be an entrepot, said the professor. But from the late 1940s, the city's population suddenly soared to more than 1 million after receiving many refugees while the entrepot trade role deteriorated. To deal with the population surge, the then government supplied land to support early manufacturing and garment industries.
After a calamitous fire in 1953 that destroyed thousands of squatter huts and rendered more than 58,000 people homeless, the government started to build resettlement housing to accommodate the victims - that was an early form of the subsidized public housing available today.
Asked if the current government has done enough to help the poor, Lau said Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had tried very hard to do some good things.
"Due to scarce land supply, housing prices are very high in Hong Kong. That seriously affects the people as they spend a huge portion of their income on rents, at the expense of other areas such as education for their children and healthcare," the professor said.
Lau also noted that only 25 percent of the land in Hong Kong is utilized, while about 60 percent is within country parks and green zones, as 60 percent of land in Singapore and even 80 percent in Shenzhen has been developed.
"Hong Kong residents need to make a choice as to whether such large country parks are needed," he said.
(HK Edition 05/26/2017 page6)