IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok has said that an online system for residents to apply for the government’s HK$4,000 cash handout would not take 18 months to build, despite a claim by the city’s acting leader.
The cash handout programme received criticism after many community centres ran out of adequate paper application forms, and enquiry hotlines had to be suspended owing to a large number of calls. Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung said on Tuesday that it may take 18 months for the government to accept public bids to build a reliable online system.
But Mok said Cheung’s estimation was an “exaggeration.”
“If they wanted to do it, they could have done it within a year,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “But they never wanted to do it.”
“The industry will say: 18 months, you are joking right? If the government can set the requirements quickly, I believe it is reasonable to complete within three months to six months.”
He said the government does not require a new computer programme for any new scheme, and departments can ask for internal resources to modify existing programs, which can also shorten the time.
He also said many elderly people would know how to use computers to apply for the cash handout, or would be able to seek help from young family members.
Mok criticised the Labour and Welfare Bureau, as well as the Home Affairs Bureau, as being departments that lagged behind in the use of technology.
He said the Immigration Department only took two years to launch computer systems for residents to apply for the new Hong Kong identity card: “The department can complete such an amount of work within two years – [other departments] should not play dumb. They cannot do it just because they don’t want to do it,” he said.
He said the Hong Kong government has been trying to push the idea of a smart city, but Hong Kong can learn from Singapore, where many services can only be applied for online.
“Some people may say they don’t know how to do it online. Maybe they have staff members at community centres to help out?” he said. “But Hong Kong is at another extreme. It always says some people don’t know how to [do it online].”
“We can take the mid-point. Even if we don’t phase out all the offline services, we have to make a start on online services.”