The Budget covers a lot in innovation and technology, and particularly some short-term and pragmatic measures the ICT sector has found absent in the Policy Address. It has taken some of our proposals to provide more support to the local ICT market, and also policies to nurture ICT talents and boost Fintech development. While I welcome some new initiatives related to ‘smart city’ (sensors in major routes and water supply system), we have yet to see a strategy of priority areas, and how the government plans to support innovation from within through reviewing its procurement and recruitment policies.
Improve the Voucher Programme to benefit local IT companies
Many of us in the ICT sector have been advocating for the voucher scheme on SME technology adoption for a long time. However, even with the launch of this voucher, there are concerns over the efficiency of vetting procedures, scope of eligible ICT solutions, project time frame and criteria of eligible service providers, whether they have to be associated with public institutions and R&D centers. This Voucher Programme is expected to stimulate demand in ICT solutions and I hope it can benefit our local ICT companies as much as possible. I will seek to talk to the government to expand the programme for it to be truly beneficial to our sector.
I would also like to reiterate that as one of the biggest ICT users in town, the government should take lead to purchase IT services and products developed in Hong Kong as a means to support the local ICT market.
Fintech Development: Cross-departmental cooperation is the key
With the Steering Group on Fintech established last year, the ICT industry anticipates the government to launch concrete measures to help develop Fintech in Hong Kong. The initiative for the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Securities and Futures Commission and the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance to set up Fintech dedicated platforms to liaise with the industry is a positive move but more importantly, regulators such as the SFC has to review outdated laws lest Fintech startups will continue to find themselves strangled by uncertain legal problems.
One good practice can be found from the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Last year, it set up a new Fintech and Innovation Group to review existing regulations and develop strategies. The Authority also earmarked approximately USD$167 million to launch a Financial Sector Technology and Innovation Scheme to incentivise financial institutions to set up innovation labs, and adopt a single fintech platform to connect the government, banks, insurance companies, investors and startups together.
Insufficient resources to foster ICT education and teaching support
Learning subsidies that are unveiled in the Budget can help upgrade our workforce, but it should cover more ICT-related courses. I welcome more internship opportunities for secondary school students in foreign IT companies but I hope similar programmes will extend to ICT students in tertiary institutions.
The government has long been focusing on the hardwares in fostering the ICT education, however, it is equally important to enhance the teaching support and to reform the ICT curriculum that is losing touch with the global development. The consultation on pushing STEM education has ended last month and I urge the government to step up the efforts to address the manpower problems facing the industry.