Cash handout won't be delinked from other budget items at Legco

February 28, 2020 13:11
Paul Chan (R) is resisting calls from lawmakers who want a cash giveaway to citizens to be fast-tracked by putting it up separately from the other budget items for funding approval.  Photo: HKEJ

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has rejected calls to decouple the cash handout from the rest of the items in the 2020-21 budget proposals, arguing that splitting the cash giveaway from the rest of the budget would not necessarily result in faster disbursal of the money to citizens.

Attending a Legislative Council meeting on Thursday, a day after he announced that the government will give all Hong Kong permanent residents aged 18 or above HK$10,000 in cash this year, Chan faced queries from lawmakers who want the cash giveaway to be fast-tracked by putting it up separately from the other budget items for funding approval from the Legco.

Pan-democratic legislators questioned why the cash handout should be put before the Legco finance committee along with other spending proposals, some of which -- particularly a funding boost for the police -- are contentious and would face opposition.

The lawmakers said the cash handout should not be bundled with the funding recommended for the police, which they feel does not deserve more budgetary allocation given the law enforcement officers' questionable conduct during the anti-government protests by citizens last year.

Lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho from the Civic Party said putting the cash handout and the proposed funding for the police force in the same package for deliberation is unacceptable.

Fellow lawmakers Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong, who belongs to the Professionals Guild; Leung Yiu-chung, from the Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre; and Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung from the Labour Party, meanwhile, made it clear that they will vote against the budget if the two items cannot be handled separately.

Lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, said since the cash handout will not benefit those under 18 and as the budget planned for the police will rise significantly, an amendment bill to propose cutting down the police’s expenditure could be submitted later.

Party lawmakers will discuss whether to veto the budget, he said.

Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of the People’s Power suggested that authorities should table the proposed the cash handout, which involves HK$71 billion in spending, at a special meeting of the Finance Committee next week for approval so that the eligible members of the public can receive the money as soon as possible.

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick of the Council Front asked Paul Chan if he has the power to decouple the cash handout from other items in the budget, but the finance chief made it clear that such course of action is out of the question.

Tackling the cash handout separately would not expedite the process of distributing the money to the public, he added.

The finance chief said he will not do so even if he has the power to separate the cash handout from the rest of the budget.

In the Legco meeting on Thursday, lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong urged authorities to simply the registration process so as to facilitate the cash disbursement.

Another pro-establishment Lawmaker, Kalvin Ho Kai-ming from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, suggested that the government should allow people to register for the money by using their e-wallets and let non-permanent residents in Hong Kong enjoy the benefit as well.

Participating in an English radio program on Friday morning, Paul Chan said he hopes to disburse the HK$10,000 as soon as possible, but the preparation process would need about three months.

The relevant preliminary work has begun, including contacting banks to discuss arrangements for application and payment systems, he suggested.

The finance chief is confident that the application procedures would start during the summer, and that the citizens would receive the money at that time, in phases.

Even if the funding approval of the HK$10,000 cash handout is spilt from the rest of the budget and submitted to Legco’s finance committee, this will not speed up the entire process of disbursing the money, he said, but added that expediting the process of disbursal to the needy is an issue that will be looked at.

According to a survey conducted on Wednesday by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, 46 percent of the respondents among the public were satisfied with the budget, with the ratio being the highest in the past 10 years.

Chan’s popularity rating after his budget speech, at 43.5, represents a significant improvement from the level recorded in early February before the cash handout announcement.

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TL/JC/RC