The late US president John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
What he laid out was a very noble ideal, under which there is an “engagement” relationship between the government and the people: while citizens are entitled to rights, they must also do their duty.
In Hong Kong, government-public engagement is something that has been inadequate for long. The situation was bad during the British colonial administration, and it remains so even today more than 21 years after the transfer of sovereignty.
It is time now for the Hong Kong government to redress the situation and rebuild trust as well as understanding between the administration and the people.
Authorities should start engaging with the public in earnest and announce some economic relief measures to show that the government will care for the citizens from the cradle to the grave.
To foster a sense of shared stake in the city’s future, I suggest three “vows” for the administration in relation to economic assistance for the people.
The first vow the government needs to make is to promise to give every local new-born baby a “lai see” or red packet of HK$50,000 in order to cover the parents’ extra expenditure on the infants.
Given that new births in Hong Kong have stayed at between 50,000 and 60,000 in number in recent years, this lai see would cost the government less than HK$3 billion each year.
Meanwhile, the government should also consider giving each newly born baby a commemorative album in which their parents can record every joyful moment of their children’s growth.
The second vow the government needs to make is to promise to give every local permanent Hong Kong citizen a one-off cash handout of HK$100,000 once they reach the age of 18.
The initiative would only cost the administration some HK$6 billion annually.
HK$100,000 for every 18-year-old person is peanuts for the cash-flush government, but it can definitely make a life-changing difference for the young people.
It is because if they have that money at their disposal, the young people can not only pay for college for at least two academic years, they will also be able to rent a home to lead a life of their own, or even start a business with friends.
Last but not least, the third vow the government should take is to offer every senior a cash handout of HK$50,000 after they have reached the age of 70, so that the elderly can enjoy a more decent retirement life.
In total, these three “vows” would only cost the government HK$11-12 billion a year, which is nothing compared to the HK$150 billion budget surplus the government recorded last year.
The spending would be definitely worth it, as it can substantially enhance the bonds between the government and the public.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 8
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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