(27 February, 2019, Hong Kong) The Financial Secretary Paul Chan today released the 2019-20 Budget, annoucing around $25 billion of new funds for the development of innovation and technology. The majority of the new funds will go toward upgrading infrastructure, such as $16 billions for universities to refurbish their campus facilities and laboratories, and $5.5 billions earmarked for the expansion of Cyberport.
Responding to the new Budget, IT Legislative Councillor Charles Mok expressed deep disappointment towards the government’s continued inclination to emphasise R&D and infrastructure projects, while completely disregarding the pressing demand from the ICT sector and frontline workers to address the shortage of local technology talents and fill the skills gap in the market. Mok described the new Budget as ‘old wine in an old bottle’ and lacking the commitment to help mid-career professionals adapt, upskill and transform.
New measures this year:
- $2 billions into the ITF for launching the Re‑industrialisation Funding Scheme;
- $500 millions to implement the IT Innovation Lab in Secondary Schools Programme in the coming three school years to procure the necessary IT equipment and professional services and organise more relevant extra-curricular activities to deepen students’ knowledge of cutting-edge IT;
- $200 millions to launch a four-year pilot project providing Wi-Fi service to around 1,350 service units operated by subvented organisations under the Social Welfare Department;
- $300 millions to expedite the development of digital infrastructure, and to facilitate the dissemination, utilisation and innovative application of geospatial data.
Although the new Budget speech made a few mentions on attracting tech talents several times, it has failed to implement new initiatives for upskilling our local workforce which is a priority in other countries. The Continuing Education Fund provides only a $20000-subsidy which is far from enough to help IT workers upgrade themselves and find quality jobs. In stark contrast, released just 10 days ago, the new Budget of the Singapore placed strong focus on economic transformation for its companies and people. Around HK$21 billions were dedicated to capability-building measures for Singaporean workers and mid-career switchers. The newly created Professional Conversion Programmes also target to help Singaporeans gain skills in new growth areas such as blockchain, embedded software, and prefabrication.
TVP improvements benefiting companies
Some practical measures in this year’s Budget included raising the subsidies for the Technology Voucher Programme and the Researcher Programme, and also extending the the Researcher Programme and the Postdoctoral Hub Programme from two years to three years. Mok welcomed these initiatives and believed they will benefit tech workers and companies.
On Smart City development, Mok has long been calling for the government to adopt and expedite the use of e-payment for public services. The Budget has mentioned the government’s plan for the use of the Faster Payment System on taxes, utility charges and other fees. Mok said the Monetary Authority has already published the Common QR Code Specification, government departments and public utilities should adopt more e-payment methods and give citizens more choices and convenience.
Review of outdated law: no progress shown
In his speech, Paul Chan revealed that the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office has started reviewing existing laws which are outdated and impede I&T development. This has been long overdue since the Chief Executive’s election campaign and previous Policy Address. Little progress is shown beyond the establishment of the PICO. On the contrary, government departments have stepped up the efforts to amend legislations that would ban ride-sharing and home sharing in Hong Kong.
Finally, Charles Mok pointed out that the government as one of the biggest employers for IT workers, takes part of the blame when it comes to the loss of IT talent in Hong Kong. Taking the government’s “T-contract” as an example, Mok said that almost 60% of the IT workers within the government are hired with short-term temporary contracts offering little job stability to the staff. There is also a worrying trend that the government is replacing long term contract workers with new recruits of civil servant. This policy of relying on agency workers demonstrates the lack of respect for technology talents and needs an urgent overhaul, said Mok.