Poverty panel seeks more time to see ideas through

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 May, 2007, 12:00am

The top-level panel set up to tackle poverty should have its tenure extended for at least two more years so that it can follow through on measures proposed, members have suggested.

The Commission on Poverty is to be disbanded after it submits a final report to the government next month.

The commission, one of Tung Chee-hwa's final initiatives before he stepped down as chief executive in early 2005, comprises 18 members drawn from different sectors, and five policy secretaries. It aims to improve policy co-ordination on poverty issues.

Commission member and Democratic Party vice-chairman Tik Chi-yuen said the commission's tenure should be extended for at least two years to follow through on the measures they have proposed.

He expressed concern that the government would attach less importance to addressing poverty in the future.

'We now have various policy secretaries sitting on the commission, and our work is more focused,' he said. 'If the commission is to be downgraded, the effectiveness of the measures would definitely be something we are worried about.'

Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood legislator Frederick Fung Kin-kee, also a commission member, said the panel should continue to operate until the government could prove that poverty had eased.

'We still have 1 million people who have a very low income. Disbanding the commission would send the wrong signal, that poverty problems have been resolved,' said Mr Fung, who is also chairman of the Legislative Council subcommittee on poverty. He said he had raised the issue of extending the commission at its meeting last week, though he conceded the government was unlikely to heed the call.

A government source said the commission was never intended to be a permanent structure.

'It was established to examine and co-ordinate the different policies and measures across different bureaus,' the source said. He said the commission, although it lacked its own resources to execute any proposed measures, would map out broad directions on the way forward in the report. Implementation will mainly be taken up by the new bureau in charge of labour and social welfare.

The bureau could appoint another advisory panel on poverty if necessary, he said.

During question time at Legco last week, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said he had not totally ruled out the need for a special commission in the future, but said he hoped to move forward with 'new thinking'. He and Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, who is chairman of the commission, have vowed to put a high priority on alleviating poverty.