People come first, not politics

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 November, 2010, 12:00am

In his latest policy address, the chief executive moved away from the usual policy initiatives and handouts to deal with social problems. As part of that, he announced the establishment of the Community Care Fund.

Under the plan, the government and the business sector will each contribute HK$5 billion to the fund to help the underprivileged, which will, at the same time, help promote a culture of social responsibility and philanthropy. Donations will be used to enhance our existing social security system.

The principle of the fund overwhelmingly supports the theme of the policy blueprint - sharing prosperity for a caring society. It is hoped that the fund will address poverty and the widening wealth gap, and ease growing social conflict to build a harmonious society. That's why the fund has been relatively well-received by the community, especially the business sector. A number of tycoons have already pledged their support, so the HK$5 billion target shouldn't be a problem at all.

But some critics have slammed the government over the fund, claiming it is politically motivated to help bolster the popularity of Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, who is chairman of the fund, to pave the way for his running for the top job in 2012.

Those who are interested in the top post have accused the government of using the money to fund Tang's election campaign.

Other ill-informed detractors have also joined the chorus, pumping their fists and shouting slogans such as 'government-business collusion' and 'rob from the rich and give to the poor'. Some legislators have even demanded that the government withdraw the proposal.

We are just around the corner from the chief executive election, and many issues will inevitably be politicised during this sensitive period. But, if we look at the big picture and put the general good of the community first, it is meaningless to waste time on conspiracy theories.

The bottom line is that all donations, big and small, will help people in need, especially when we are talking about HK$5 billion - not a small amount. We should dismiss those accusations as empty talk.

Calling it a de facto tax on business, Hang Lung Group's chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung has said he won't donate a cent to the fund. He was quoted as saying that he wanted to spend his money in whichever way he liked and donating to the fund would not be the only channel to do charity work.

We also have former Liberal Party chief James Tien Pei-chun accusing the government of stealing his idea. According to Tien, the concept of a fund involving the business community was first raised by him in July. His proposal was to have the business sector donating HK$300 million to subsidise medical expenses for the elderly and fund scholarships.

But now he has gone to another extreme by saying that as Hong Kong's foreign currency reserve assets amounted to HK$2.2 trillion, the government shouldn't be forcing businesspeople to dig into their pockets. Tien would do well to remember that his proposal was going nowhere because his property tycoon friends were not responding to his 'philanthropic investment'. He should thank the government for making his wish come true.

There are also concerns that the fund will compete with existing charities. We should remember that the proposed fund is a new funding entity from the business sector and shouldn't affect existing charities and their funding sources.

The most puzzling was Nelson Chow Wing-sun, a social work and social administration professor at the University of Hong Kong, who dismissed this government-business collaboration, saying that most successful charity programmes overseas were established by businesses with little if any government involvement.

The fund will help a lot of people in need, that's the truth. We need to cast aside all suspicions for the general good of society. It's all about charity.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.