Playing politics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 July, 1998, 12:00am

Legislators now seem to realise their blunder in vetoing a government plan to provide more assistance for first-time buyers.

Last week it was the administration which was pleading in vain for councillors to approve the $3.6 billion needed to double the size of the Home Starter Loan Scheme, as part of the economic rescue package announced last month. But legislators preferred to play politics: pandering to the disgruntled flat purchasers who bought at the height of the market last year and cannot now obtain mortgages.

Councillors blocked the funding request in an attempt to force the Government to include this highly vocal group in the scheme. But that prompted a rebuke from Denise Yue Chung-yee, Secretary for the Treasury, who said the Government could not subsidise buyers caught by falling prices.

As a result of the legislators' action, all parties lost out. The interests of the 6,000 potential first-time buyers the scheme was to help were sacrificed in a vain attempt to help a group who, however unfortunate their plight, cannot be baled out by dipping into the public purse.

The Legco blunder quickly prompted a change of policy in the Liberal and Frontier camps, with an indication that the Democrats are also likely to fall in line, if the request is retabled. The Chief Executive has signalled the administration's willingness to resubmit the application if it is likely to get through at a second attempt, but time is running out.

The summer recess is looming, unless the application is tabled at Friday's meeting of the Finance Committee, it will be too late for this session, and another opportunity to stimulate the property market will have been missed.

The predicament of people who bought last year and are now unable to secure a mortgage is very unfortunate, but it is not a situation which warrants government intervention. That could set a precedent which fuels speculation.

It is another illustration of the flaws of the volatile property market, and a system which encourages prospective buyers to gamble that prices will hold, rather than securing a mortgage at the outset, so that they own a home, regardless of how values fluctuate.