A mainland woman, who took pictures in court, could be let off the hook after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government has to consider costs when pursuing outstanding amounts.
Her remark was in response to a question raised by lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun yesterday.
Tse said Tang Lin-ling, who was convicted of contempt of court for taking photos on May 23 at a trial relating to the 2014 Occupy Mong Kok protest, was ordered to pay a legal cost of HK$197,260.
However, she has yet to pay the fine as she was sent back to the mainland after serving her seven-day jail sentence.
With Tang's return to the mainland, Tse questioned how the legal cost that Tang needs to pay can be collected.
He also said 21.5 percent of mainlanders have not paid fixed penalties for smoking offenses, a rate much higher than 1.3 percent among Hongkongers who do not pay the fine.
Tse then took aim at government loans that have not been paid by university graduates. "There are 11,400 cases of university graduates who have failed to pay government loans amounting to HK$173 million," he said.
The outstanding amount from medical services has accumulated to HK$50 million, he added.
"What is the government's plan to tackle the problem and pursue these amounts?" he asked.
Lam said she would look into the issue and assured Tse that she would ensure public funds are not abused.
"On the other hand, we need to see if pursuing the amounts would bring huge difficulties to some people, particularly relating to the student loans that you mentioned," she said. "We also need to consider the cost of pursuing the amounts."
Tse cited a case in Manchester in which a patient from a non-European Union country received medical treatment worth 530,000 pounds (HK$5.55 million), but left the hospital without paying.
He said the British government seeks to amend the law and make non-European Union citizens pay before they receive any medical treatment.
He also cited a case in Osaka in which the prefecture government commissioned a research institution to seek solutions to prevent failure of payments.
Tse told The Standard that after Lam's political assistant contacted him to get information about the cases overseas that he cited, he was informed that Lam would look into the issue herself.
Barrister Chris Ng Chung-luen said Tang was ordered to pay the legal cost to cover public funds used for her case.