New migrants may get cash handout

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2011, 12:00am

Some 237,000 new migrants will get a cash handout of HK$6,000 each under a proposal by members of the government-run Community Care Fund, in what looks like another change of heart from authorities to appease the public.

The move, which will be discussed today, is going to cost the fund HK$1.5 billion if approved.

It comes after strong protests by new migrants over being excluded from the government's cash giveaways in the revised budget.

Under the fund proposal, new adult migrants with a household income below 75 per cent of the median household income of the same-size Hong Kong family will qualify for the handout.

Taking figures from the fourth quarter of last year as a reference, a new migrant from a four-person family will qualify if their combined family income is under HK$18,000. For a family of six, the ceiling will be HK$27,000.

Those who are living on public assistance should also be eligible, according to the proposal.

The fund's home affairs subcommittee will meet to discuss details at a meeting today.

One panel member said: 'The government believes this is the easiest and most direct way to give out the cash.

'But to be in line with the terms and reference of the fund, we have to set some eligibility requirements. The fund is supposed to help those in need so we need to define who are in need.'

He said he had doubts if those receiving public assistance should also be given the money. 'This could give rise to a double benefit,' he said.

The move will be seen as another political capitulation from the government.

It earlier announced a HK$6,000 giveaway to each Hong Kong permanent adult resident after running into strong public criticism for its original budget - which ruled out any instant tax rebate on the grounds of inflation concerns.

Thousands of people took to the streets on March 6 in protest. Former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping and Civic Party vice-chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit called on Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah to step down.

A few days after the budget Tsang promptly revised it.

The revised budget in turn provoked criticism from new migrants who felt they were unfairly treated by being excluded from the cash giveaway.

Analysts also criticised Tsang for deviating from a long-held principle of prudent financial management.

The authorities' latest change of heart still leaves some people not satisfied.

Grass-roots group the Society for Community Organisation said all new migrants should be eligible or else it could be in breach of the Basic Law.

Citing Article 26 of the Basic Law, the group said the only right non-permanent residents might not be entitled to was the right to vote and stand for election.

It said setting a means test was treating new migrants as second-class residents.