The first Policy Address from Chief Executive John Lee satisfied fewer Hongkongers than maiden speeches by all his predecessors, according to an opinion survey.

john lee policy address
Chief Executive John Lee. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The satisfaction rate for Lee’s address on Wednesday was 33.7 per cent, according to a questionnaire conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI).

In contrast, with the exception of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying who saw a satisfaction rate of 35.7 per cent, the rate for all previous leaders’ maiden Policy Addresses hovered from the mid-to high 40s in percentage terms.

Donald Tsang, who took over in 2005, saw the highest satisfaction rate of 47.7 per cent, followed by Lee’s predecessor Carrie Lam at 47.5 per cent.

The city’s first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa received a satisfaction rate of 44.8 per cent.

Lee’s speech covered ways to attract talent amid an exodus from the city, a “Light Public Housing” scheme focusing on building transitional homes for those awaiting permanent public housing, and a new rail link among other highlights.

While pro-establishment lawmakers hailed the address as ground-breaking and innovative, others have pointed out the lack of poverty alleviation policies and a failure to tackle the root cause of the city’s emigration wave, often attributed to strict Covid-19 policies and the political situation.

New People's Party policy address
New People’s Party lawmakers respond to leader John Lee’s policy address. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

PORI’s poll surveyed 574 people shortly after Lee finished speaking, via random sampling.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index, which has been slipping of late, fell to a 13-year low on Thursday morning.

A former police officer, Lee was appointed Hong Kong’s chief executive in an uncontested election in May. He said while delivering his Policy Address that Xi Jinping’s speech in July served as his “governance blueprint.” The Chinese leader visited Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of its return to China and to inaugurate Lee as chief executive.

Xi Jinping
Chinese leader Xi Jinping officiates in Hong Kong on July 1, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

A previous PORI poll found that almost half of Hongkongers surveyed had low or no expectations for Lee’s Policy Address.

‘I have to be held responsible’

Answering questions from reporters in a televised forum on Wednesday night, Lee said his Light Public Housing scheme, under which residents would move into prefabricated units for a few years while awaiting permanent public housing, was not intended to “dress up” waiting time figures.

“We will still publicise the wait times for public housing. It will be transparent,” he said.

In response to a question about the quality of homes under the Light Public Housing scheme, Lee said there was a need to address “the most pressing matter at hand.”

oi man estate ho man tin public housing estate
Oi Man Estate in Ho Man Tin. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

“Of course, ideally, everyone would want to live in a spacious environment… but the reality is we have a land and housing problem,” he said. “There are some people living in environments where there is water leaking, the ventilation is poor, and it’s very cramped. They shouldn’t have to wait.”

“When I was communicating with people living in subdivided flats, when they heard [about the possibility of such a scheme], they felt this is better than what they have now,” Lee added.

Another reporter said Lee’s Policy Address proposed many strategies to attract talent from abroad, but did not discuss how to retain local talent. Lee did not answer directly when asked what the city can do to stem emigration.

“In my Policy Address, I discussed how we can improve our education in terms of vocational training. We are increasing our support for vocational training and may start offering subsidies for half-day programmes,” Lee said without mentioning what schemes he was referring to.

Central district. Photo: GovHK.

He said that besides for attracting foreigners, the city also hoped to lure back Hongkongers who had gone abroad. “People who have spent time overseas can compare and know that a lot of systems in Hong Kong are actually very good,” Lee said.

“I lived abroad for one year,” he added, recalling that he once waited so long for public transportation that he had time to finish reading a book.

Lee also said that as chief executive, he would be held accountable if “anything was done in a way that was not satisfactory, or done poorly.”

“I’d have to be held responsible by the Hong Kong citizens and the central government. Actually, I’d feel guilty,” he said.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.