Message is loud and clear: help the needy
Finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah got the message loud and clear at the first of four regional consultation forums on his budget yesterday - help the needy.
Recommendations from 33 representatives of local organisations and councils in Tsuen Wan revolved around livelihood issues, including relief measures for elderly people, the working class and the chronically ill.
As high inflation continues, the finance minister was also urged to tailor handouts to ease the plight of the poor. Tsang said the measures would be directed at the sectors most urgently in need.
'There will be short-term relief measures. We have to think carefully if the policies can target the needy,' he said. 'We also need to evaluate the impact of policies on the economy.'
But he refused to say if there would be any form of subsidy, such as his HK$1,800-per-household subsidy on electricity in the 2008-09 budget.
Tsang said the government's spending since he took up the post in 2007 had risen by 35 per cent in total.
But his pledges did not convince protesters outside the forum. And two non-governmental groups and two parties called for more effective measures to target poverty, and the ageing population.
'A universal pension should be established as soon as possible,' said Kwai Tsing district councillor Leung Chi-shing, of the Neighbourhood and Workers' Service Centre. 'It is ridiculous for the government to spend HK$6 billion to bid for the Asian Games, but to remain blind to the plight of poor and old people.'
Luk Wai-fong, 67 - who is retired and is forced to rely on her savings - criticised the government for hoarding billions of dollars in reserves but failing to help the elderly. 'Inflation has made my life very difficult. Why can't such a rich government spend more on the elderly?' she asked.
Tsang accepted petitions and placards, but refused to take a 'bomb' - a large stuffed plastic bag symbolising the swelling problem of the ageing population.