Parties urge more cash for education, welfare
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is facing calls from major political parties for hefty spending on education, social welfare and a buy-back of the Western Harbour Tunnel.
The calls come as government coffers are flush with cash from land sales and stamp duty on property and stock transactions.
Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said he did not expect the chief executive to dole out sweeteners costing billions of dollars, such as a rent waiver for public housing tenants and extra welfare payments.
An official said there had been no strong calls from the community for handouts similar to those offered in the past two years.
But the administration is still facing strong calls for extra spending to narrow the wealth gap and improve education, given the windfall from stamp duty and land sales.
Tsang is scheduled to begin consultation sessions on his October policy address tomorrow when he meets Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
The government collected about HK$11.44 billion from stamp duty from April to June, about 40 per cent of John Tsang Chun-wah's estimate in his February budget. It pocketed more than HK$21 billion from land sales in the three months ending in June, 61.5 per cent of the finance chief's estimate for land premium for the current financial year.
Surveyors estimate that three sites in Hung Hom, Kowloon Tong and Ho Man Tin, which are scheduled to be auctioned this month, will bring in a total of HK$7.5 billion.
John Tsang estimated a budget deficit of HK$25.2 billion for the current financial year, but given the boom in the property and stock markets the government stands a good chance of seeing a budget surplus.
Cheung, who represents the education sector, suggested that students who miss out on university admission because of insufficient subsidised places, be provided with vouchers to study at private universities.
'There are an average of 17,000 students every year who made the grade but there are only 14,500 government-funded undergraduate places available,' he said.
Wong Kwok-hing, a lawmaker from the Federation of Trade Unions, said Donald Tsang should extend the transport subsidy scheme to all 18 districts. Under the scheme, people earning HK$5,600 or less and living in Yuen Long, Tuen Mun, North and Islands districts may file for a subsidy of up to HK$600 a month for a maximum of six months.
'Tsang should also use the policy address to announce a buy-back of the Western Harbour Tunnel to ease the imbalance of traffic flow among the three cross-harbour tunnels,' Wong said.
Flush with cash
The government pocketed HK$11.44 billion from stamp duty from April to June, and this much from land sales: $21b