Critics hit out at 'commercial' census

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 12:00am

The Government was accused yesterday of collecting sensitive data about families' mortgage payments that critics said could be used to help property developers.

The accusation came as the Census and Statistics Department detailed plans for a major census between March 15 and 27, costing taxpayers $550 million.

Nearly 22,000 students and teachers will be hired as temporary field workers to carry out the 2001 Population Census for all 2.2 million households. A population census is carried out every 10 years.

Some new questions will be asked for the first time, such as the mortgage and loan repayments of households and the outstanding period for such loans, the number of rooms in homes and families' ethnicity.

A total of 310,000 families - or one in seven households - will be subject to a long questionnaire including the new questions, as well as more detailed ones covering income and education.

The remaining 1.88 million households will only be required to fill in a short form asking for basic personal information such as date of birth, sex and type of accommodation.

Frontier legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan and Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said the census showed the Government was more concerned about the property market than people's livelihood.

Ms Ho believed the information would probably be used to serve developers and banks for their future business plans.

'The Government may try to find out how many people can afford a new home or when their loan period will end,' she said.

Mr Law said that the Government was seeking to draw a 'property line' instead of a poverty line.

'For years, we have been asking the Government to draw a poverty line to find out how many families are underprivileged. But the Government seems to be more interested in finding how many households can afford a new flat,' he said.

Democratic legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said it was strange that the Government should collect information which was unlikely to help in drawing up housing policy.

'I also wonder whether people are willing to disclose their personal financial situation,' he said. 'The information is so sensitive. Also, I do not see how it relates to government housing policy - that would be more related to population growth than how much a family has to pay for a mortgage.'

Commissioner of Census and Statistics Frederick Ho Wing-huen denied the Government was collecting the information to serve developers and bankers.

'Mortgage payment is an important issue in regard to housing. It also relates to how families spend their monthly income,' he said.

The commissioner warned that people who provided false information could face a $5,000 fine and six months' jail. Those who refused to provide data might be fined $500.