Li largesse shows private-public gulf

Editorial | Mary Ma 1 Nov 2019

By the end of this month, many small eateries that are struggling to survive the current anti-government storm will receive cash assistance in an civic-minded act of charity made possible by a foundation named after Hong Kong's premier tycoon Li Ka-shing.

The process involved will be extremely timely, with only a few weeks needed for the ready cash to be handed out once an application is submitted.

This leaves me wondering if government schemes could be just as efficient had Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po been asked, in a mirror move, to dish out the HK$200 million involved.

That may only be small change for both Li and the administration, but the way it is used underlines the defining difference between the private and public sectors.

While it would be a real public service if the administration could be as efficient, it seems that would be most unlikely given how long Chan took to hand out the HK$4,000 in cash handouts to those individuals who totally missed out in an earlier budget.

Perhaps Edward Yau Tang-wah wasn't pleased to be caught on the backfoot upon seeing the prominent media coverage given to Li's move, as the commerce and economic development secretary emphasized that the government offered comparable relief packages recently, as he spoke in what was apparently a welcome for the tycoon's donation.

It is absolutely legitimate for Yau to point out that the administration is trying to do its bit too to aid people hit by a crisis it created in the first place.

However, the question is what is the progress that has been achieved so far since those high-profile press conferences jointly attended by this and that minister? How much of that assistance has trickled down, as promised to those in urgent need of help?

I hope it isn't going to be another painstaking process as that experienced by many in the HK$4,000 cash handout scheme.

It was only in the beginning of October that the Li Ka Shing Foundation announced it would donate HK$1 billion to aid small and medium-size enterprises struck by the unrest and the Sino-US trade war.

Then early this week, it said that HK$200 million of this sum would be dispensed to eateries hiring fewer than 50 staff while restaurateurs applying from November 7-17 would receive HK$60,000 by the end of the month to ease their cash-flow crunch.

It would be most encouraging if Yau could try and compete with this private initiative in forking out a lifeline speedily to small entrepreneurs about to be swallowed up by financial quicksand.

It's a triumph of Hong Kong values if our economy should always be driven by free-running private companies, not state-controlled enterprises, and allowed to thrive at a new level of vitality.

Yesterday, the government published some alarming figures.

They showed gross domestic product fell 3.2 percent quarter on quarter and 2.9 percent year on year. Both figures are worse than market predictions and confirm that Hong Kong is in a state of recession.

The recession was said to be technical, but that is a description that misleads with its latent attempt to play down the severity of the economic crisis before us.

Some pro-government politicians have suggested issuing coupons or vouchers to stimulate consumer spending.

They may be better than nothing, but the help they provide is not as direct as that coming from the Li foundation, as it can stop people in a cash crunch from falling into the financial abyss.

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