To give or not to give cash handouts, that is the question.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is scheduled to deliver next Wednesday the budget plan for next fiscal year that will begin on April 1. And as is usual in the days before the budget speech is delivered, debates have arisen over how to better use the budget surplus that is expected to amount to multibillion Hong Kong dollars this fiscal year.
While some urge the government to offer cash handouts to citizens, others insist that raising allocations for the healthcare system and services for the elderly should be given priority, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions told a radio program on Monday that she favors distributing part of the surplus directly to the public in cash.
Mak said she does not intend to ask the government to do so every year but that’s what it should do since the surplus is so huge that it cannot be fully used up and putting some of the remaining amount into people’s pockets would be better than letting it sit idle in the government.
The cash handout should be no less than what was seen last time in 2011, which was HK$6,000 for each permanent resident, Mak said, adding that it is some grassroots’ wish to have the cash put in their pockets rather than see its use decided by the government.
Mak said she also considers long-term planning very important. She suggested that the age for eligibility to the Old Age Allowance under the Social Security Allowance Scheme be lowered to 65 from 70 at present, and that the income and assets threshold for the benefit be raised.
Civic Party lawmaker Dr. Kwok Ka-ki, who also attended the same program, disagreed with Mak’s suggestion for handing out cash, which he said should only be done as stimulus when the economy lacks strength.
Pointing out that investments such as those in elderly care and early childhood education have been restrained by the rule that public expenditures should not exceed 20 percent of the local GDP, Kwok urged the government to increase such investments to build more homes for the aged and schools and increase the expenditure for healthcare.
He said this should be done while the city enjoys a budget surplus before the aging population becomes more pronounced and the taxable base shrinks.
Kwok also suggested more tax reduction for workers who earn less than HK$30,000 a month.
Earlier, Chan said in another radio program that the surplus is not as big as speculated by the public and it is not right to give cash handouts as a short-term measure just to please some people in society.
The financial chief said he has no intention to lower the standard tax rates and implied there is a possibility of giving no more rent-free benefits for residents of public rental housing.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she believes Chan knows how to make the best use of the surplus after listening to plenty of opinions, although she admitted the money put in the hands of people and corporations may achieve better economic effects than that held by the government.
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