Travel subsidy move may sway lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 February, 2011, 12:00am

The government appears to have offered enough concessions to sway the required number of lawmakers to vote for the new travel subsidy for low-income households today.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said yesterday an additional 106,000 people would be covered by the scheme, bringing the total to 436,000.

The monthly allowance ranges from HK$300 to HK$600, depending on the number of working hours.

Cheung announced the modifications after intense behind-the-scenes lobbying yesterday, when 35 legislators threatened not to vote for the scheme's funding at today's Finance Committee meeting.

'The income limit for two-member households as announced last week was HK$10,000, now we move a step further to raise it even higher to HK$12,000,' he told lawmakers during a manpower panel meeting.

While the revised income limit represented 84 per cent of the HK$14,000 median income for two-member households, the income cap for three-member households remained at HK$13,000, he said.

To include part-time workers, a half-rate subsidy of HK$300 would be offered to those who work between 36 and 72 hours a month.

Cheung said the government could review the scheme a year after its launch, instead of the three years set out in the original proposal.

The modified scheme would cost HK$4.8 billion, instead of HK$4.3 billion under the initial proposal.

'Right from the very beginning, our target was to roll out the scheme as soon as possible for the benefit of our many grass-roots workers,' Cheung said.

He said the changes took into account the views of legislators and the public, and he hoped the scheme would be implemented without delay so the needy could receive the allowance by the end of the year.

Unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who initiated the adjournment motion, was disappointed that his demand would likely be vetoed. The motion, if passed today, would throw the plan back to the drawing board and require the government to come up with improvements before reintroducing it to Legco.

'It proved that our alliance is a ... fragile one. Many of the pro-government lawmakers have said they would accept the administration's proposal when there has been just a tiny improvement,' Lee said.

Despite its foreseeable failure, Lee vowed to continue pursuing the motion. 'We have to create room for people to air their discontent at the government that it should improve its policies, listening to lawmakers and public opinion,' he said.

Lee and other lawmakers remained firm in their stance against the modified proposal as the eligibility of applicants would still be based on scrutiny of the income and assets of households, rather than each individual.

However, lawmakers from the Federation of Trade Unions and Liberal Party had decided to vote in favour of the government.

'If the scheme cannot be put in place as soon as possible, we fear that the effect would be huge,' Miriam Lau Kin-yee, legislator for the transport sector, said.