Lawmakers across the political spectrum have forcefully rejected Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s claim that they had approved her plan to raise the age threshold for elderly financial support from 60 to 65.
Lam defended her plan at the Legislative Council on Thursday, saying that lawmakers had approved the plan last year as part of the government’s budget for 2018 to 2019.
Her statement drew backlash from both pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps, with some lawmakers saying that the legislature had previously voted to suspend the proposal.
As of February 1, the age for Hong Kong residents eligible for elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) will be 65 rather than 60.
Those between 60 and 64 can still apply for CSSA for able-bodied adults, but will receive HK$1,000 less per month.
Speaking after Lam’s Thursday appearance, pro-democracy lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said Lam had “made a false accusation” by pinning responsibility on the legislature.
Lawmakers had no authority with which to block the government’s decisions to slash public expenditure, Shiu added.
Lawmaker Fernando Cheung said that he had tabled a non-binding motion to suspend the plan, which was passed by the legislature’s Panel on Welfare Services last November.
“It’s clear that the legislature’s stance… is to oppose the restriction of eligibility for elderly financial support,” he said.
Cheung and Shiu added that the proposal had only been mentioned in a small section in the 920-page budget, and Cheung admitted that he had overlooked it.
The pro-Beijing DAB party also criticised Lam, saying that her statement unfairly implicated the whole pro-Beijing camp.
“It’s unfair to say that supporting budget is the same as supporting the [restriction in eligibility],” said DAB Vice-chairman Gary Chan. “We supported the budget because we didn’t want a fiscal cliff.”
Lawmaker Michael Tien said he thought Lam had misspoken and said that her statement may encourage lawmakers to vote no or abstain more often in the future.
The legislature passed the government’s budget for 2018 to 2019 in May, with 43 votes for, 11 votes against and eight abstentions.
Cheung and Shiu were among the five remaining lawmakers who did not cast a vote.
Of the 43 yes votes, 39 came from the pro-establishment camp.