Chan under fire as handouts shrink

Top News | Phoenix Un 1 Mar 2019

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is under fire for failing to deliver handouts or come up with short-term policies to ease the housing and medical-sector woes.

Talking on radio, Chan said he understood that taxpayers are "a little unhappy" about the reduced amount of tax rebates and rates this year.

But he said the relief measures already ran into more than HK$40 billion, or 70 percent of the HK$58.7 billion surplus.

A caller, a woman named Wong, urged Chan to consider giving tax deductions to renters like her.

"I earn HK$28,000 a month, and I use half of it for rent. I can't get public housing and I can't [buy a private flat] on my income. The most basic thing that can help people like me is to offer tax concessions on our rent," Wong said.

Chan said he did consider such a step but decided against it as he felt it would send rent rates climbing. "The vacancy rate is so low and landlords will eat up the subsidy just by increasing rents."

Another caller, named Cheung, said despite the HK$10 billion reserved for the Hospital Authority to use when needed and the extra HK$700 million recurrent fund, the money would not solve any problems.

"We need to wait for five years to see a specialist just for 15 minutes, but queuing for five years for public housing can allow a whole family to live in it for life," she said.

Chan said the nine items in the 10-year hospital development plan were under way, and "the second 10-year plan involves 19 items, with 9,000 extra beds, but it needs time to implement, so we used money to alleviate the pressure on doctors in the meantime."

A woman called So said the only difference between this year's and last year's budgets was the HK$20 billion plan to buy properties for welfare facilities. "How will the price be set? The scheme seems like collusion or an attempt to prevent the property price from dropping." Chan said the government will participate in the price setting. "We won't blindly rush to buy the properties without regard for the price."

An opinion poll by the University of Hong Kong showed the public to be generally unhappy with the budget.

Among the 621 people interviewed, only 23 percent were satisfied, while 39 percent were not.

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