Hong Kong’s unique scheme for subsidising the rich

August 21, 2020 11:22
Photo: RTHK

The determination of the Hong Kong government to subsidise the rich and powerful is nothing short of breath taking.

We now know that the two biggest supermarket chains in the SAR each received more than HK$100 million of coronavirus employment subsidy in the past three months , and are possibly due to have that sum doubled in the next quarter.

While other companies are closing down or struggling to keep alive as business goes through the floor, supermarkets have not only enjoyed buoyant business but have been raising prices during the coronavirus pandemic.

So, why on earth do they need a government subsidy? The answer, provided by Law Chi-kwong, the secretary in charge of subsidising the rich, is almost unbelievable. He said that it was too complicated to sort out who was raking in cash as a result of the crisis from those who were not. Apparently if the government attempted to do this it would undermine and slow down the entire employment subsidy scheme. Yes, that was actually his excuse.

It is hardly breaking news to discover that the Lam administration combines incompetence with arrogance but, really, is there any need to keep underling their stupidity?

If the government had the smallest intention not to develop a programme of rich aid it could simply make employment subsidy applicants state whether or not their company had incurred losses and or laid off staff since the onset of the pandemic. Anyone providing a false answer would be liable to criminal prosecution. How difficult is that?

Apparently way too difficult for the bureaucrats administering this scheme which, in case anyone has forgotten, is allegedly designed to preserve employment.

So, companies which are not laying off staff are receiving subsidies alongside those that are. The list of beneficiaries, incidentally, goes beyond supermarkets as it also applies to pharmaceutical firms and delivery services who have seen business surge.

Showing a glimmer of awareness of the absurdity of the government’s position the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO) muttered something about supermarkets needing to show social responsibility and, er, something else. Even she was not able to explain what was meant by this.

To strain every sinew so as to be fair to the government it might just be possible to argue that an urgent employment scheme works best and can only be implemented with speed if it is not obstructed by too many qualifications.

However the idea that things get complicated when companies are forced to declare whether or not they are making money, suggests either that the bureaucrats are too dumb to sort out this relatively straightforward matter or that they simply can’t be bothered because, let’s face it, there are cups of tea to be drunk and chats to be had among colleagues.

The same pathetic argument of complexity was advanced for giving the superrich the same HK$10,000 that also went to the very poor. Again Law said it had to be done this way because otherwise the system would not be able to cope.

In this instance however, the system was given bucket loads of time to cope because there was a gap of some four months between the announcement of the scheme and its implementation. The excuse given here was that the banks could not cope without being given sufficient time. The envisaged delay conveniently brought the implementation of the handout close to the Legco poll, which was then postponed and, by staggering coincidence the rollout of payments was brought forward.

Meanwhile the pandemic continues to cause real pain to a great swathe of the Hong Kong population while the government refuses to focus its relief programme on those who are suffering most. It is far too busy making sure that the programme of rich aid remains unhindered.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.