New measures unveiled to help businesses hit by social unrest

October 23, 2019 11:56
Financial Secretary Paul Chan (R) announces a new round of relief measures on Tuesday for businesses that have borne the brunt of Hong Kong's ongoing social unrest. Photo: HKEJ

The Hong Kong government has unveiled new measures to help businesses such as transport, retail and tourism that have taken a big knock due to the months of social unrest in the city.

Announcing the third of its kind relief package, following two previous initiatives in mid-August and early September to support enterprises and local residents, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po on Tuesday outlined the need for additional help for the business community amid the ongoing crisis. 

At a press conference, Chan noted that “the first two rounds of [relief] measures had been welcomed by the community and the related sectors.”

As the economic situation "has been worsening quite fast", the government has decided to roll out a third package targeting certain "sectors which have been hard hit”, he said. 

The sectors targeted for support include retail, catering, transport, logistics and tourism, which have borne the brunt of the social disturbances that have rocked Hong Kong since June.

According to the financial chief, the measures in this new round will cost the government about HK$2 billion in total, including a fuel subsidy of HK$1.365 billion for the transport trade that can be availed over six months or as a one-off subsidy.

The subsidy is expected to benefit 61,000 taxi/red minibus drivers, 180 public transport operators, and owners of 130,000 commercial vehicles and vessels, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

A one-off survey fee subsidy will be provided for local commercial marine vessels, costing about HK$16.5 million and benefiting 6,300 vessels.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan added that taxis and minibuses will get a HK$1 discount per liter of liquid petroleum gas (LPG), representing approximately one-third discount, for six months.

Meanwhile, one-third of the diesel cost will be reimbursed for six months for each diesel minibus.

The five franchised bus companies and 22 franchised and licensed ferry services will also be reimbursed one-third of the actual fuel cost for six months.

The transport chief told reporters that since “the public transport sector has been hardest hit because of the marches and demonstrations on the street”, he believes this kind of subsidy scheme can help relieve the operating pressure on the sector.

“But more importantly, if society can come to harmony, with less [demonstrations] and perhaps stoppage of violence, that would even help more than what we can offer,” Frank Chan said.

Kowloon Motor Bus and Long Win Bus welcomed the new relief measures.

Hung Wing-tat, chairman of the Hong Kong Taxi Council, said taxi operators need a lot more help and that the industry will reiterate its demands to the government.

Calling the subsidy inadequate, So Sai-hung, who chairs the G.M.B. Operators General Association, said the actual effects are hard to estimate at present because the support offered is not that big.

The association may submit some proposals to the government later, depending on the circumstances, he said.

As for relief for the retail sector, Paul Chan announced that the rental on some facilities leased by the government will be reduced by 50 percent for six months, on top of the rental reductions announced in August, with retrospective effect from October 1.

The facilities covered include fee-paying public car parks under the Lands Department, Government Property Agency (GPA) and the Leisure & Cultural Services Department (LCSD); supermarkets, superstores, a shopping mall and vending machines under the GPA; and shops, light refreshment kiosks and civic center facilities under the LCSD.

Among other initiatives, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the Hong Kong Tourism Board and the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC), are jointly considering providing measures to support the operation of travel agents.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah is meeting the press on Wednesday to lay out the plans to support the tourism sector. HKTB chairman Pang Yiu-kai and TIC chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat are also present at the event.

Paul Chan promised that the government “will continue to monitor the situation closely, and if there are areas that require further assistance”, the government will not hesitate to roll out additional measures to help businesses and protect jobs.

Aron Harilela, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the latest relief package, but stressed that the only way to prevent Hong Kong economy from worsening is get society back to normal.

Unless that happens, the business community could see further deterioration in its prospects, he warned.

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