With Hong Kong’s Science Park in charge of a massive HK$40 billion (US$5.1 billion) slice of the budget funding pie in an attempt to turn the city into an innovation and technology (I&T) hub, questions have arisen as to how it can spend the money wisely, will be able to churn out success stories and also be accountable to a highly sceptical public.
Critics suggested setting up various committees to hold the park accountable on its criteria for handing out funds and called on it to set up key performance indicators (KPI) and benchmarks to measure its achievements.
On Wednesday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po raised eyebrows as he dished out HK$50 billion to support I&T development this financial year, of which the park would be in charge of HK$40 billion, including HK$20 billion for building in the Lok Ma Chau Loop the first phase of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park, owned by Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation; and HK$10 billion allocated to the park for supporting its tenants and building infrastructure and facilities.
Also, HK$10 billion was earmarked for funding world-renowned research institutes or tech enterprises to conduct midstream and downstream research and development projects in the areas of biotechnology, artificial intelligence and robotics technologies in the park.
The park would be responsible for drawing up the funding criteria and relevant details of this scheme while a statutory committee would be set up comprising officials, park members and the innovation sector to vet applicants.
A government source said the park was expected to draw on the successful model of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, a statutory board that plans and executes strategies to sustain the country as a leading global hub for business and investment with aggressive incentives to attract foreign investors. These include provision of land, low taxes, a wide range of loan and subsidy schemes for start-ups, equipment and machinery and easy entry of foreign talent.
Professor William Wong Kam-fai, associate dean of the engineering faculty at Chinese University, said the government should set up various committees to monitor the work of the park, which should formulate a strategic plan with performance benchmarks on how to turn Hong Kong into an innovation hub.
“The Science Park should draw up different KPI and performance benchmarks so it can report to the Legislative Council from time to time and inform the public about the progress of its work and its achievements,” he said, adding it should be given some leeway to flex its innovative muscles.
On the funding criteria for foreign institutes or enterprises to set up shop in the park, Wong suggested the park draw up fair rules in the selection process.
“A host of factors like the applicants’ track records, such as past success stories, investment plans and scale, and expected outcome, should be taken into account for deciding how much support should be given to a specific applicant,” he said.
However, compared with the Singapore model, Wong doubted whether the park could be as aggressive as the Economic Development Board.
“If the Science Park wants to follow the Singapore model, it needs to go out actively and hunt for top research institutes to set up labs in Hong Kong with attractive packages. But as far as I can see, Hong Kong government officials and the Science Park are still passive and bureaucratic in catching up with Singapore. They need to be more proactive,” he said.
Executive councillor and legislator Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung agreed that there should be a mechanism to monitor how the park managed the funds. “The Science Park should formulate a plan on the vetting criteria and rules of deciding the funding amount. I hope it can reveal all the details to ensure it will spend the money properly and fairly,” he said.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung said the public should have confidence in the park’s management.
“It’s been 20 years since the Science Park began operating … so far all their development projects were delivered on time and within budget. That’s why I have every confidence in its ability to execute.”
Cheuk Wing-hing, permanent secretary for innovation and technology, also dismissed the notion that the park would be turned into a “little kingdom”.
“For every region that needs to develop innovation and technology, there must be a flagship base,” he said.
However, local technology start-ups said there should be more incentives and support, and less bureaucracy in applying for grants.