An end to inertia: cutting red tape will allow technology to help Hong Kong recover

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Hong Kong is holding back the potential for innovative platforms to aid with post-pandemic recovery, argues Richard Willder, Uber’s Head of Public Policy in Hong Kong.

Photo courtesy of UCLARodent at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5.

The rate of innovation since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has been truly extraordinary. From video conferencing for remote working to food and grocery delivery through platforms like Uber Eats, what started as a necessity to cope with the crisis, will likely become lasting habits.

However, of more significant and lasting concern is the necessity of adapting technology and innovation throughout the economy, so that the sector can be a pillar of Hong Kong’s recovery. 

The government is right to make innovation and technology a pillar of Hong Kong’s economic recovery and post-pandemic vision. The appointment of a new Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Alfred Sit, and the Chief Executive’s restated commitment to fostering the sector is an important first step. 

But the government alone cannot unlock the potential of innovation – this can only be achieved by working hand in glove with the private sector, and embracing new approaches to existing challenges.

For the government to achieve these ambitions, it must first look to what it can control: its approach to regulation.

Photo courtesy of Peter Dowley from Dubai, United Arab Emirates – IFC, Hong Kong Island, CC BY 2.0.

In the Chief Executive’s first Policy Address, she championed innovation as critical to the future development of Hong Kong, and tasked the administration to “review existing legislation and regulations, removing outdated provisions that impede the development of innovation and technology.” In a later address, Mrs Lam called out the popularity of the “sharing economy”, and tasked bureaus to “remove red tape in order to foster the development of a new economy” – sentiments we fulsomely support. 

When the Chief Executive doubled down on the government’s commitment to innovation, she noted her consistent advocacy for innovative approaches to government, defining it as “not doing things in exactly the same way, otherwise it becomes inertia.”  Mrs Lam insisted that the people of Hong Kong cannot just “follow the tradition and keep on doing things the same way.”

Applying anti-inertia thinking to impact on actual practice will be critical in unlocking post-crisis opportunities. 

The government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to holistically reconsider how to put innovation and technology at the heart of Hong Kong’s future prosperity.

Secretary Sit has already outlined an agenda for his bureau that will be built on three pillars: innovation, talent, and communication amongst stakeholders. At Uber we have already made progress on innovation and developing talent in Hong Kong, and we are excited to do more, invest, and help create jobs in Hong Kong.

We firmly believe that businesses like ours can play a strong role in supporting Hong Kong’s economic recovery. But to achieve this, the government must urgently tackle the issue of decades old red tape that is holding up innovation. After almost six years in Hong Kong, the transport sector is still smothered by archaic regulations, which are holding back investments we are eager to make.

Regulation of ridesharing is just one example of a policy area where minimal financial investment from the government could unleash innovation and investment in the private sector, fulfilling a range of public policy objectives, and creating jobs and opportunity for Hong Kongers.

Technology will be the growth engine of Hong Kong’s future economic prosperity – a sector that has the capacity to be agile and respond dynamically to the prevailing global trends and crises. 

With unprecedented change comes extraordinary opportunities – it is a fitting time for a new Secretary for Innovation and Technology. With the right person in place, new regulations advocated by the Secretary can unleash the potential Mrs Lam speaks so highly of in her plans for Hong Kong’s future.

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