Hundreds marched to the government headquarters on Sunday in protest of the 2018-19 budget, calling upon the authorities to share the city’s surplus and conduct cash handouts.
The budget has been under fire from lawmakers on both sides, who have criticised the government for not handing cash back to the public amid a predicted HK$138 billion surplus.
Finance chief Paul Chan has maintained that the government will give about 40 percent of the surplus back to the public through various means. The plan included a number of tax rebates, with salaries tax, tax under personal assessment, and profits tax all reduced by 75 per cent in 2017-18.
Around 200-300 attended Sunday’s demonstration, calling on the government to return wealth to the people, according to Avery Ng from the League of Social Democrats.
Ng said that the budget was mainly focused on the middle class and the wealthy, and criticised it for “returning wealth to the wealthy” and perpetuating inequality, according to Apple Daily.
He demanded that the government revise the proposal to benefit the lower classes and asked pro-establishment lawmakers to reject the budget in order to force Paul Chan to respond to their demands.
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 programme – which was not means tested – cost around HK$36 billion.
Separately, around a dozen housing concern groups marched to Government House to protest against the budget’s lack of resources dedicated to relieving pressures on the housing market.
They demanded that the government amend existing regulations to protect renters’ rights to renew their contracts and prevent rent hikes.
Marchers also demanded more measures for “N-nothings” – a term broadly used to refer to people who do not benefit from any government schemes.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the lack of cash handouts while speaking to the press on Sunday before heading to Beijing to attend the annual meetings of China’s parliamentary and consultative sessions: “The Financial Secretary does not think this is appropriate on principle, and I support his view on the matter.”
As part of the budget proposal, the Community Care Fund was invited to consider providing short-term relief for low-income households not receiving public housing or comprehensive social security assistance.
Lam admitted that some needy groups may not benefit from the budget measures, and said the Community Care Fund was designing new programmes to benefit a broader group than “N-nothings.”
Chan said on an RTHK programme on Saturday that the beneficiaries will include low-income people not receiving CSSA, retired persons living in public housing under the age of 65, and young people earning over HK$10,000 who do not need to pay taxes.