Lawmakers belonging to two major parties have suggested that the government should consider handouts for the public as part of next Wednesday’s annual budget, since Hong Kong is expected to report a huge surplus.
In 2011, then-financial secretary John Tsang launched a scheme whereby permanent residents aged over 18 could receive a one-off HK$6,000 payment. The plan was devised following criticism of his original proposal which involved injecting the sum into Hongkonger’s Mandatory Provident Fund pension accounts. The scheme – which was not means tested – cost around HK$36 billion.
Lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, the chair of the Democratic Party, said the city’s surplus was expected to be at least HK$140 billion in this year’s budget.
He said on a RTHK radio programme on Tuesday that past measures of handing back the surplus to the public had benefited some parts of society. He said such handouts are one of the ways to ensure that everyone benefits: “It is a direction that we should consider.”
Financial Secretary Paul Chan has said he does not agree with Macau-government-style cashback schemes. Macau residents are set to receive around HK$9,000 this year – the eleventh public handout since 2008.
Wu did not give a clear answer as to whether he supported cash handouts, but said measures such as land rate rebates may only benefit flat owners.
Wu said there should be a mechanism for the government to conduct handouts, to save time on debating what measures should be taken every year. For instance, he suggested 30 to 40 per cent of the surplus could be given back to the public as “dividends.”
“We have the money to deal with both long-term and short-term issues,” he said.
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Edward Lau said giving HK$6,000 each to the public would be “absolutely feasible” as the population had not changed much since 2011.
“There’s no need to think of tricks – make it simple, and everyone is happy,” he said on the programme. “At least the public will be able to enjoy the fruit of our economic development instantly.”
He said the government had been making incorrect estimates for years and had declared a massive surplus each time – thus, the sum should be spent on both short and long-term remedies.
Lau and Wu suggested the government should pay one month of rent for public housing residents, and conduct tax rebates.
Wu also suggested spending more money on a fund to set up elderly care homes, health care for grassroot people, shared housing, among others.