The Policy Address, as expected, placed considerable emphasis on promoting innovation and technology, re-industrialisation, smart city, big data, applied R&D and support to start-ups. The $2-billion Innovation & Technology Venture Fund on a matching basis, the implementation of a big data strategy and the proposal to formulate a digital framework and standards for smart city are necessary steps to address critical issues such as the lack of private investment and proper standards.
While the Policy Address this year has adopted some of the suggestions the ICT industry and I proposed previously, I am disappointed in the lack of support for local ICT industry. There was also no mention of concrete measures to address the ICT talent crunch, promote the development of FinTech, update the laws for innovative businesses and improve the procurement and hiring policies of the Government.
Most importantly, the Policy Address has not set key performance indicators (KPI) and goals for the proposed policies to ensure that resources will be used effectively. Transparency is also my concern especially when the proposed funds and subsidies on ICT matters amount to $4.7 billions. I urge the Government to handle potential conflict of interests carefully, and to overcome internal constraints that hinder adoption of technology within the government.
Innovation and Technology
The CE proposed a $2-billion Innovation and Technology Venture Fund for co-investing with private venture capital funds on a matching basis, and a $200-million Cyberport Macro Fund for investing in Cyberport’s ICT start-ups. I am in favour of the proposals yet the selection process should be fair and transparent when the Government chooses partners to manage the funds.
The CE also proposed to allocate $2 billion to the ITB to encourage University Grants Committee-funded institutions to carry out more mid-stream applied research projects. I welcome such proposal but it is equally important to assist companies to use technology. I have suggested the Government launching the Innovation Voucher Scheme as adopted in many countries to push forward the local ICT development.
The Policy Address mentioned to expand the coverage, speed and security of free Wi-Fi services at government venues in the next three years. It also proposed to offer free Wi-Fi services at bus stops and shopping arcades. While I support all these initiatives, I urge the Government to assist private operators to access public amenities, like lampposts, to extend the Wi-Fi coverage outdoor. It should also look into how free Wi-Fi services can be operated with a sustainable business model.
On open data, the Government will continue to encourage public service bodies and commercial organisations to open up more data and devise data standards for smart city. However, the Government still lacks a strategy on how government-owned data should be released, and the quality of the data released is frequently being criticised. There is a need for the Government to actively communicate with civil groups and set out rules to prompt public transport companies to release more data.
Education and Manpower
The CE revealed little on how to promote STEM education and ways to address the talent crunch. I hope the Government can scrutinise carefully the comments received from the STEM consultation and quickly implement relevant policies, such as adding coding education into the curriculum and to strengthen training for ICT teachers.