Govt unveils new measures to support businesses amid downturn

December 05, 2019 10:03
Financial Secretary Paul Chan (2nd left), with other principal officials, announced the fourth round of relief measures on Wednesday. Photo: HKEJ

The Hong Kong government has unveiled a fresh round of measures aimed at helping businesses weather the economic downturn.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the relief package, the fourth of its kind since August, is mostly targeting small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs), which are likely to be hit hardest as the city's economic growth is forecast to enter negative territory this fiscal year for the first time in many years.

“Our concept is that by supporting businesses, [the relief package] will help safeguard employment. During economic downturn, supporting employment is the number one priority of the government,” Chan said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The measures, involving more than HK$4 billion, followed three previous initiatives announced on Aug. 15, Sept. 4 and Oct. 22. The combined amount was worth about HK$25 billion, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The financial chief said the latest package includes nine measures, with seven of them designed to benefit businesses and the rest for individuals.

Under one measure, the government will waive 75 percent of water and sewage charges for non-domestic households from Dec. 1 to March 31 next year, subject to a monthly cap of HK$20,000 and HK$12,500 respectively for each household.

An electricity subsidy is also available to eligible non-residential electricity account holders to cover 75 percent of their monthly electricity bill, subject to a cap of HK$5,000 per account per month for four months, or HK$20,000 in total per account.

An enhanced rates concession will be provided to all non-domestic properties in the fourth quarter of 2019-20. The exemption ceiling for each non-domestic property chargeable to rates will be increased to HK$5,000 from HK$1,500 during the quarter, or Jan. 1 to March 31.

The three measures are expected to reduce government revenue by about HK$3.24 billion in total.

For the financial industry, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) will waive the annual license fees for all licensed individuals and intermediaries for the financial year 2020-21. The revenue of the commission will be reduced by around HK$117.5 million but more than 47,000 licensed individuals and intermediaries will benefit.

SFC chief executive Ashley Ian Alder hoped the measure would ease the financial burden of some 47,000 individuals licensed by and registered with the commission during the economic downturn.

The government will also use the turnover rent from the operator of the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal to reduce the fees and rents of cruise lines and tenants of the terminal for six months from Dec. 1.

Meanwhile, a one-time rental subsidy scheme will be launched for recycling enterprises through the Recycling Fund, involving about HK$100 million.

For individuals, the surcharge on tax outstanding is waived for up to one year for taxpayers in need who had applied and obtained approval for tax payment by installment. Such a waiver is applicable for the 2018/19 year of assessment, covering profits tax, salaries tax, and personal assessment.

The Employees Retraining Board will enhance and extend the Love Upgrading Special Scheme. It will also increase the maximum amount of monthly allowance per trainee from HK$4,000 to HK$5,800 through legislative amendment while boosting the choices of trades and courses.

The government will also improve the Youth Employment and Training Programme to assist young people in entering the labor market.

Pam Mak, president of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said the new measures are more timely than the previous ones, adding that those in the hotel and catering sectors will be the main beneficiaries.

Mak suggested the government should also offer allowances to ease the SMEs’ rent burdens.

Dennis Ng Wang-pun, president of The Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, called the latest relief package more direct and more effective than the previous ones.

However, Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants & Related Trades, said the new measures, overall, will not help the catering sector much because sewage charges are not the biggest cost of small eateries.

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