HK has done its homework on GST

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2006, 12:00am

In her opinion piece 'Keep GST in perspective' (July 27), Christine Loh Kung-wai questions why the current consultation exercise focuses only on a goods and services tax and suggests that the government should be more honest by examining the whole system and other taxes.

The fact is, this has already been done and reports published. Chapter two of the consultation document reminds us of this. In 2001, the Advisory Committee on New Broad-based Taxes published the report 'A Broader-based Tax System for Hong Kong', in which it examined a whole list of alternatives, including capital gains tax, worldwide income taxation, and taxes on interest and dividends. It even went so far as to examine a tax on mobile telephone services.

The committee gave a clear recommendation that a GST is best suited to Hong Kong based on criteria of neutrality, fairness, effectiveness, efficiency, certainty, simplicity, flexibility, international competitiveness and revenue stability.

A report published by the Task Force on Review of Public Finances in 2002 demonstrated the serious structural weakness of the existing budget model. It stated clearly that to continue as we are is not an option.

Hong Kong must act before the next turn of the screw to ensure there is a stable source of revenue to fund those important public services - education, welfare, health and so on. In fact, a new tax could be dedicated to these objectives.

CONNIE HUI, secretary-general, Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong

What narrow tax base?

I'd like to thank Christine Loh Kung-wai for her opinion piece 'Keep the GST in perspective' (July 27).

This myth of a narrow tax base that the government keeps talking about is preposterous. What we actually have in Hong Kong is an extremely broad-based tax system. The government raises revenue by selling, renting and taxing land. Everything one does in this city - whether it is eat, drink, sleep or do business - requires real estate. The tax on that real estate is passed on to everyone, even those who sleep on the street.

I find it far from coincidental that, at the same time we are hearing about revenue-enhancing strategies, we have seen proposals to expand the government's infrastructure, both in terms of facilities (the Tamar government complex) and people (new deputy ministers and assistants).

Well, guess what? Introducing GST to help pay for these will also expand government in terms of floor space and the number of people required to administer this completely new tax system.

If the government is really after a 'revenue neutral' alternative for taxation, as it claims, why don't we work within the existing structures? In other words, let's keep a lid on the size of government and government spending. Let's increase income taxes or, better yet, put more of the burden on the wealthy by taxing dividends and capital gains.

Instead of concentrating on attracting multinationals to the city with low tax rates, Hong Kong could lower land premiums and focus on making housing more affordable to the common man.

JAY SMITH, Central

Incompetency's reward

I used to subscribe to the view that the meek would inherit the Earth. I am now convinced that this is not to be. It seems to me that the cynically manipulative and/or plain incompetent (very often the former also prove to be the latter) get to run the show.

Just as I am astounded that Peter Mandelson was appointed EU trade commissioner after being forced to resign not once, but twice, from the British cabinet, we now have our very own Margaret 'Sars' Chan Fung Fu-chun put forward to head the World Health Organisation.

To those families who back in 2003 lost loved ones, and the health-care workers who put their lives on the line in sorting out the mess she had a major hand in, I join you in shaking my head at the absurdity of the situation.

If she gets the nod, for the sake of the planet with a potential flu epidemic waiting to kick off, let's hope she has learned from her mistakes.


Mending the split

I refer to, and welcome, Martin Chiu's letter on the need for continuity of health care in the community ('Bickering sickening', July 14).

The Hospital Authority recognises the importance of collaboration between the public and the private health-care sectors and values the mutual sharing of information to ensure better continuity of care for patients. The challenge has been to develop innovative ways to do this in a cost-effective and timely manner.

We are happy that Dr Chiu particularly mentioned the value of hospital discharge letters, and are pleased to announce that the authority recently rolled out two projects in collaboration with our private-sector partners - the Collaborative Project to Enhance Information Flow for Referred Patient and sharing of the Hospital Authority's Electronic Patient Record. The latter is a pilot project.

We sent a letter to all registered medical practitioners on August 29 last year inviting them to take part in the first project. This will enable the medical practitioners to receive clinical updates by fax on patients admitted into and discharged from public hospitals or attending specialist outpatient clinics.

For Dr Chiu's ease of reference, we will send him the letter again, and again invite him to join this project. Should any other private medical colleagues require information about this project or other Public-Private Interface initiatives, they are most welcome to contact us or visit us on the Hospital Authority's website.

Dr K.M. CHOY, convenor, Hospital Authority Central Working Group for Public-Private Interface