Hand out more cash says Lam in budget swipe - 'Caring measures' not up to the mark

Top News | Riley Chan 22 Mar 2018

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor wants to widen the cash handout to as many people as possible but rejects blanket coverage.

She also admitted that the budget had failed to cover all sections of society. Specifically, "the caring measures" were not up to the mark.

Word is going around that any adult over 18 and over 65 who is earning less than HK$15,500 can expect a one-off handout of at least HK$3,000.

Several reports from government sources say that Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is finally giving in to mounting pressure over the absence of cash handouts in the budget.

Lam's back-handed swipe at the financial secretary's budget, with its colossal surplus and benefits for just a handful of people, came as she opened the new Gleneagles Hospital yesterday.

Lam said the government wants more people to benefit from the relief measures. "I don't know what is the definition of cash handouts, but I know the financial secretary knows the community's expectations," she said. "We have to admit that the caring measures are not comprehensive enough."

Lam also said she had heard voices in society that the existing N-nothing program is not comprehensive enough, as it targets only those who are not living in public housing and not receiving the dole.

Therefore, soon after the budget, the government had been planning a community care program which could cover more people."But that does not mean a public cash handout," she said. "The financial secretary has said he has reservations about a public cash handout, and I publicly supported his view. But I admit that we can do more when designing the program. The government intends to broaden coverage, but I do not have many details on that at the moment," Lam said.

Many Hong Kong citizens were expecting public payments as in 2011, when everyone aged 18 and above received HK$6,000.

But they were disappointed as the financial chief stood firm. His first budget address seemed to have pleased nobody, with critics saying it benefited only a small number of people.

Dealing with the criticism, Chan had called on Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong to explore the feasibility of using the Community Care Fund to help those who had missed out.

The HK$3,000 proposal came to light yesterday. Eligible recipients would be those who are not receiving any financial assistance and did not benefit from the tax rebate or rate exemption announced in the budget.

The fund will hold a meeting next Tuesday to discuss the measure. An official announcement is expected by the end of this month.

Labour Party legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung estimated that the plan would benefit two million people, costing the government about HK$4 billion. The government should use this money to improve medical and education services instead, he said.

Parties across the political spectrum slammed the government for setting the amount too low.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said the arrangement was not fair as the amount of tax refund for some high-income people could go as high as HK$30,000.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said a selective cash handout is bound to upset some people. He said the government should either give out cash to every Hongkonger or not do it at all.

Executive Council member Wong Kwok-kin said the cash handout should be at least HK$4,000. Instead of drawing the line at HK$15,500, the payment should be given to people who earned less than HK$25,500 or even HK$30,000.

Ann Chiang Lai-wan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said the decision was disappointing, given the huge surplus this year. She said her party might meet with Chan soon to further discuss the measure.

New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee believed HK$3,000 or higher would be more reasonable. Eligibility should be expanded to cover all adults who do not have property and are not taxpayers.

riley.chan@singtaonewscorp.com

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