Chan vouchers under fire from grassroots

Business | Sophie Hui 26 Feb 2021

Grassroots residents have criticized Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po for being "detached from reality" when he opted to distribute HK$5,000 worth of electronic consumption vouchers instead of cash in the budget.

Chan said the vouchers will be issued in five HK$1,000 installments to each eligible permanent resident and new arrival aged 18 or above to boost local consumption, costing the government about HK$36 billion.

On a radio phone-in program yesterday, a caller, Ms Lee, said Chan "does not understand" the lives of grassroots people.

"We were hoping [the government] would help us in our basic needs," she said, adding she could only afford to spend HK$10 on vegetables in wet markets a day.

She is concerned that small shops and wet-market vendors do not have Octopus card readers or other electronic payment machines.

Lee also hopes the voucher could be kept for a longer period of time instead of the monthly deadline for them to be used up.

Another caller, Mr Leung, said: "You have put your head in the clouds by asking the elderly to buy this and that. Honestly speaking, those elderly scrimp and save even on food."

A Ms Wong urged: "Be more practical and give people a HK$5,000 cash handout."

Many were also worried if the amount could be distributed by September as the process could take longer than cash handouts.

Chan said he understood the difficulties faced by people and that the anti-epidemic fund had subsidized wet-market vendors to install electronic payment. The coupons have a wider coverage and can be used in wet markets, fast-food shops and local online shops, he said, but they cannot be used in paying bills and transport fare.

Chan also said the government looked into raising salary and profit taxes due to its dwindling reserves, but decided against it in the end.

At the Legislative Council, lawmakers pressed Chan to include the underemployed in an unemployment loan scheme, where each applicant can apply for a maximum of HK$80,000 or six times their average monthly income during employment. But Chan said there is a need to be cautious in relaxing the rules due to the possibility of abuse.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Retail Management Association chair Annie Tse Yau On-yee said she hopes the government would negotiate with stored value facilities operators on reducing or even waiving the processing fee for merchants. "For some small merchants, they mainly use cash in transactions with customers. Electronic payment would increase their costs," she said.

In a press conference, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Christopher Hui Ching-yu said people can register for the vouchers at a central electronic registry platform. People can also submit paper registration forms.

He said those who applied for the HK$10,000 cash handout last year through electronic registration do not need to fill in their personal information again and they only need to provide information of their stored value facilities and sign the personal information collection statement.

On the unemployment loan, Hui expects a bad debt rate of 25 percent.

He also said the government plans to press ahead with increasing the stock stamp duty from August 1 despite the outcry from investors.

Separately, a Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute survey showed 56 percent of 859 respondents were dissatisfied with the budget, and just 20 percent were satisfied. The average score of the budget was 36.4 out of 100 - the lowest since 2008.

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