How lawmakers failed the public on elderly CSSA proposal

January 15, 2019 11:44
Carrie Lam attends a Q&A session at the Legislative Council on Jan. 10. The government’s plan to raise the age threshold for elderly social welfare payments has drawn fire from many members of the public. Photo: CNSA

The Social Welfare Department announced recently that starting from Feb. 1, the age threshold for applicants for monthly allowances under the elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme will be raised from 60 to 65.

During the Chief Executive’s Question and Answer Session last Thursday, a pro-establishment lawmaker asked Hong Kong's top leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor if she would consider withdrawing the new measure, given the discontent expressed by many members of the public.

But Lam said outright that the new measure, which was included in the Appropriation Bill 2018, had already been approved by the Legislative Council in May last year.

Following the remarks, Lam immediately came under fire from both the pan-democrats and members of the pro-Beijing camp for passing the buck. Some pro-establishment lawmakers even referred to the government as being “sly”.

While one can argue that the administration may have been too clever, the lawmakers themselves, particularly those belonging to the pro-establishment camp, should also be held accountable.

It is because scrutinizing the annual Budget documents, that are as thick as a phonebook, is an annual routine for every Legislative Councilor.

Experienced and dedicated lawmakers, as well as their assistants and advisors, should know the drill once they have received copies of the Budget, crunching the numbers immediately.

If a lawmaker is really concerned about social welfare policies and has studied the entire Budget carefully, he or she would definitely have noticed the 23 (Chinese) characters that proposed raising the age bar for CSSA applicants.

And if a legislator claims that he or she had not noticed that small detail, they only have themselves to blame for not having done their homework and fulfilled their duties.

In particular, I believe lawmakers belonging to the pro-establishment camp should bear the biggest political responsibility for the blunder.

If they really find it totally unacceptable to raise the eligible age for elderly CSSA applicants, they should have pressured the administration during the course of scrutinizing the Appropriation Bill last year, as only the pro-establishment camp, which accounts for over half of the seats in Legco, has the political leverage to get the administration into amending the Budget.

Pro-establishment lawmakers are yelling and bawling right now when they could have done something to completely block the measure last year. They could be seen as all bark and no bite.

If anything, what the saga has shown is that our elected representatives in the legislature seem far more interested in chasing the limelight and making political gestures rather than enforcing oversight of the government.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 14

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor