Motion calling for welfare fund rejected

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2008, 12:00am

Lawmakers yesterday voted down a motion calling for the government to set aside part of its fiscal surplus, understood to be heading for HK$100 billion, to set up a fund to meet the needs of the aged and the poor.

The motion, proposed by Civic Party lawmaker Mandy Tam Heung-man, who represents the accountancy sector, was defeated by legislators from the Liberal Party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and the Federation of Trade Unions.

Ms Tam also proposed setting up a mechanism under which part of any surplus would go into the fund during any financial year in which fiscal reserves exceeded a certain level.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said: 'The government normally sets up funds only to accommodate nonrecurrent, short-term needs. It has long been our top duty to provide assistance for the elderly and the poor, and its spending is part of the government's recurrent expenditure. We think it would be unnecessary to set up a special fund for this recurrent spending.'

An amendment to Ms Tam's motion by Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai was also voted down. He suggested appropriating HK$50 billion to set up an 'old age reserve fund' to meet an expected surge in medical, welfare and related public expenditures from 2011 onwards, related to the ageing population. Mr Sin also proposed allocating half of the annual investment income of the Exchange Fund to the reserve fund.

Liberal Party legislator Howard Young said a HK$50 billion fund would not have a big effect on poverty and elderly issues, and was worried the fund would run out of money.

Chan Yuen-han, of the Federation of Trade Unions, also opposed the idea of setting up a fund, but called for the establishment of a pension scheme for the elderly.