E-voucher idea met with scorn

Local | Maisy Mok 28 Jan 2021

A proposal for the government to hand out electronic consumption vouchers worth HK$500 every week via Octopus cards was again met with bureaucratic rhetoric by a government official.

The Liberal Party's Peter Shiu Ka-fai suggested the government give out a total of HK$5,000 in electronic consumption vouchers over 10 weeks, to be returned to the public purse after some time if unused.

In yesterday's Legislative Council meeting, Shiu, from the wholesale and retail sector, asked the government to consider such measures to fuel the recovery of the economy and businesses.

In response, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Christopher Hui Ching-yu said that feasibility, affordability and desirability have to be considered when formulating policies, and added that the government will continue seeking opinions for the upcoming budget.

Hui added that various factors need to be considered regarding issuing consumption vouchers, such as preparation time, administrative arrangements, benefits to society, and financial implications for the government.

Hui also said he is aware consumption vouchers exist in other countries, but the arrangements in different places are not the same.

"Some of them can be used to purchase regular products and services, while others can only be used to purchase certain specific products," Hui said.

"As these schemes have either just been completed or are still in progress, their effect on stimulating the local economy has yet to be seen."

He said the government must exercise fiscal prudence and make an overall and balanced consideration on proposed measures when facing an unclear internal and external economic environment.

Hui added that the government's fiscal reserves have fallen nearly 30 percent to some HK$800 billion within a year - equivalent to 12 to 13 months' expenditure.

Lawmaker Abraham Shek Lai-him of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong also urged the government to establish electronic consumption vouchers to help more than 200,000 unemployed individuals, as the government rejected disbursing unemployment assistance.

But Hui said the government will soon be carrying out population census work that will provide more than 3,000 positions, with priority for the unemployed.

However, DAB lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong, who represents the import and export sector, said the life and death of various industries do not depend on the launch of electronic consumption vouchers, but rather on rents.

Wong suggested that the government imitate Singapore and establish a "rent holiday," so businesses can delay paying rents without facing legal liability.

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