Anti-poverty group may survive if members want it to, says head

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2007, 12:00am

The secretary of the soon-to-be-disbanded Poverty Commission says it could survive as a 'similar body' if there were strong enough calls from members at their final meeting tomorrow.

Stephen Fisher told the South China Morning Post that members could suggest the form of the new body and who should be chairman.

'The possibility of setting up a similar body really depends on whether most of the members want it. It really depends on whether they will fight for it at our June 1 meeting,' Mr Fisher said.

He said talks with some members in the past week had shown they wanted to keep the commission.

Mr Fisher's remarks were welcomed by commission members and legislators who said they indicated the government had softened its stance and was trying to 'test the water'.

The commission, set up two years ago to seek ways to alleviate poverty, is due to be disbanded at the end of June.

Some members have complained it is being dissolved without setting any firm agenda for action at a time when the gap between rich and poor is growing.

Mr Fisher said Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, who chairs the commission, would be at the meeting to listen to members' views.

Senior officials, including Mr Tang, have been non-committal on whether the commission will be extended under the new administration from July 1.

Yesterday, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok declined to say directly whether the commission would continue in some form, telling legislators only that the next administration would support the poverty alleviation work through an 'appropriate institutional structure'.

Commission member and legislator Frederick Fung Kin-kee, who heads the Legislative Council's subcommittee on poverty, which passed a motion last month calling for the commission to be kept, said he believed Mr Fisher's comments showed the government was trying to 'test the water'.

Another member, Democratic Party vice-chairman Tik Chi-yuen, welcomed the remarks, saying they showed the government had softened its stance. 'Just two weeks ago it said it wouldn't continue the commission,' he said. At least 80 per cent of members wanted to keep the commission.

Member Yu Sau-chu, of the Hong Kong Single Parents' Association, said she would join other members at tomorrow's meeting in 'strongly requesting' that the commission stay.

But another member, City University economics professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung, said the commission had completed its work and it was time for the government to hand over its suggestions to various policy bureaus to put them into practice.