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The way forward for the Innovation and Technology Bureau

The passage of the funding request for the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau through the Legco finance committee last week officially marked the end of the long and tedious battle of filibusters mounted by the pan-democrats against the government over the issue.

In retrospect, the question over whether to establish an independent policy bureau to oversee the development of technology was not such a politicalized issue.

Back in September 2012, when I first proposed that an independent technology bureau be set up during a meeting between Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the newly elected lawmakers, there wasn’t much controversy over the issue, and my suggestion received the support of the major pan-democratic parties then.

Yet the administration didn’t answer my request until the 2014 Policy Address, in which Leung eventually promised to set up an Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB).

Unfortunately, by the time the Chief Executive finally put forward the proposal, the political atmosphere in Hong Kong had already changed drastically, and the establishment of the ITB suddenly became a highly politicized issue.

To make matters worse, the government’s decision to place the funding request for the creation of the ITB ahead of other livelihood matters in the Legco finance committee earlier this year to ensure its prompt passage only fueled resentment among pan-democrats and exacerbated the tension between them and the government.

After two abortive attempts to push the funding request through the finance committee, the government finally got what it wanted last week, but the decision to invoke cloture in the finance committee is bound to take its toll on the already tense relationship between the government and the pan-democrats.

In fact, the accusation made by the pro-establishment camp that the establishment of the ITB had been delayed by filibusters for three years was both inaccurate and misleading, as the entire debate and battle over the issue in the finance committee only spanned a total of 10 months.

Besides, Legco’s approval of the ITB could have come much earlier if the government had not manipulated the agenda of the finance committee in the first place to force the issue, thereby provoking an even more severe backlash from the pan-democrats.

That was one of the reasons behind the rapid politicization of the issue.

Now that the ITB has finally materialized, I sincerely hope the government can get down to business and clear all the hurdles that are standing in the way of the development of new technologies in our city.

Apart from allocating more resources for R&D and promoting entrepreneurship, the ITB must also seek to improve the livelihood and career prospects of the existing 80,000 tech employees in Hong Kong.

To strengthen the fundamentals of our tech sector, government procurement and IT education are also important aspects the bureau should work on.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 10.

Translation by Alan Lee

Office Of Hon. Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor (IT)