Tung to hear appeal on welfare cuts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 12:00am

Legislator-elect will ask the chief executive for the plan to be put on hold

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa will meet the welfare sector legislator-elect tomorrow to hear a plea for controversial benefit cuts to be put on hold.

The meeting with Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung will take place amid mounting calls for the cuts to be scrapped.

Mr Cheung said he would ask Mr Tung to suspend a 5.4 per cent reduction in Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) for the elderly and disabled, due on October 1.

The cut will affect 232,000 people and save the government $360 million a year. It is the second stage of an 11.1 per cent cut announced last year in line with deflation. The first was imposed last October.

Mr Cheung said he had sent letters to the 59 other legislators-elect, inviting them to sign a joint letter supporting his call. So far, the Democratic Party and Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong had promised to sign, he said.

'I will submit the signatures collected to Mr Tung when we meet on Thursday,' he added.

Mr Cheung will be accompanied by a group of pro-democracy lawmakers at the meeting, the latest in a series held by Mr Tung with newly elected legislators.

He said he would also tell Mr Tung that if the government failed to respond to their call, about 100 non-governmental organisations would rally at Chater Garden on October 1 in protest.

Mr Cheung and a dozen welfare groups have also demanded a meeting with Director of Social Welfare Paul Tang Kwok-wai to discuss the issue next Monday.

A day after legislators-elect from both sides of the political divide united in a call for the government to halt the planned cut, Mr Tang said the role of the Social Welfare Department was simply to carry out the policy approved by the legislative and executive councils.

He said the current CSSA payments were based on the situation over the past few years. 'Recently, some legislators-elect made some suggestions, and the government will take a look at it,' he said.

Mr Cheung said that although the cut had been approved by both councils, Mr Tung could exercise his executive power to change the policy, as it had come in the form of an order from the Executive Council, not as legislation.

The Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union joined the campaign yesterday, demanding to meet Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen to discuss the CSSA issue.

Union president Peter Cheung Kwok-che said he would call on Mr Tang to scrap the second-phase cut. 'We would also ask him to discuss with the new legislature whether the CSSA payments can be restored to the level before the cut in October last year,' he said.