Fake consultation on universal pension scheme doomed to failure

December 31, 2015 15:39
The public consultation announced by Carrie Lam (center) on the proposed universal pension scheme is just another publicity stunt pulled by the government to deceive the public. Photo: HKEJ

Last week, the administration released a public consultation paper on its proposed universal retirement scheme.

However, like many other “public consultations” on various issues the government has launched, this consultation is again neither genuine nor impartial, because the government has already adopted a stance even before formal discussion has begun, which is that it will only commit itself to a means-tested pension scheme.

Under the government proposal, the scheme will cover only the elderly over the age of 65 with assets worth not more than HK$80,000.

The idea of universal pension benefits initially proposed by Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun, emeritus professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong, was rejected outright.

At a news conference last week, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dismissed Chow’s proposal as both unrealistic and infeasible, saying it was put together casually without the benefit of serious academic research and would undermine the long-term sustainability of our public finances as well as drain the government of valuable public resources that could otherwise be used in other policy areas.

She also threatened massive tax hikes if Chow’s proposal was to be implemented and mocked him for not knowing a thing about public finance.

In fact, this public consultation is just a typical example of government tokenism.

That the administration approached Chow a couple of years ago and commissioned him to lead an extensive study into the subject has proven to be nothing more than a publicity stunt in an apparent effort to create an impression that it is taking public demand for a universal retirement scheme very seriously, when in fact it is not.

Worse still, after the government found that the report had not been written to its taste, Lam simply shrugged off the entire report and showed a complete disdain in public for Chow’s professional advice.

Her cutting remarks once again demonstrated her arrogance and inflated ego and spoke volumes about how sincere the government really is in seeking public views on this matter.

Feeling compelled to expose the government’s pack of lies and prevent the public from being misled, the 180 academics who had taken part in Chow's study decided to boycott the government consultation and conduct their own, to give the public a real picture of the true options they can have regarding universal pension schemes.

In order to spare his immediate superior further embarrassment, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the notoriously slippery secretary for labor and welfare, suddenly intervened and tried to ease their discontent by pledging that the views and wishes of the public will be taken absolutely seriously and that he is ready to attend every public consultation session in the days ahead.

However, his tricks can no longer fool our fellow citizens like they did before, because, having learnt from the painful lessons of the past, members of the public are already able to tell that our government has in fact never had any genuine concern for its people and that it has never really been interested in resolving our social problems, be they housing, educational, political or economic.

So, as far as the issue of the proposed universal retirement scheme is concerned, the public simply has no illusions about what the government is willing to deliver.

Besides, the administration itself has every reason to drag its feet over making a final decision on whether to carry out a universal pension scheme: with just a little more than a year remaining in office, almost no one would expect Leung Chun-ying and his lame-duck administration to have what amounts to a serious legislative agenda on this critical issue.

I bet the government would be delighted if our society was unable to reach a consensus over this matter, so that it can use that as a pretext to put aside the issue indefinitely.

Even a three-year-old child can tell it is almost certain that this fake consultation will go absolutely nowhere, because this is exactly what our government wants.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 29.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal