HK$6,000 handout likely to ease passage of budget bill in Legco
Fanny W. Y. Fung
The government is likely to be spared a political crisis tomorrow as the majority of lawmakers seem ready to pass the budget and a controversial HK$6,000 cash handout.
Already suffering a record dissatisfaction rating after voting down the interim budget bill last month, a majority of legislators are expected to vote for it this time, although most pan-democrats will vote against.
Dr Joseph Lee Kok-long, an unaffiliated pan-democrat who represents the health services sector, said he had not decided how to vote on either the main bill or an amendment seeking funds for the handout, but he added: 'How can I explain to my constituents if I object to the handout? [They] will beat me to death.'
Cyd Ho Sau-lan, convenor of the pan-democrats' weekly meetings, said not everyone needed HK$6,000 and the government should use its resources more appropriately.
'However, I do understand that the HK$6,000 will help people in need solve immediate problems, so I won't vote against it,' she said.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah will table the budget bill at a two-day Legislative Council meeting which starts today, as well as an amendment seeking an extra HK$7.1 billion. That follows his decision, a week after the budget, to hand out cash to all adult permanent residents, instead of putting it into Mandatory Provident Fund accounts.
A survey by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme showed that dissatisfaction with lawmakers had risen to an eight-year high after they voted down a bill for interim funding when the government first tabled it on March 9.
The interim funding bill was rejected at a time when 13 pro-government lawmakers were in Beijing. A slightly revised bill was passed on their return.
In the poll, conducted between March 14 and 23 and released yesterday, 51 per cent of the 1,006 respondents expressed dissatisfaction with legislators' overall performance, 10 percentage points up from December and the worst since 2003.
Pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu said the finding was probably due to the vote on interim funding.
Pro-establishment groups, including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the Federation of Trade Unions, Economic Synergy and the Liberal Party, have vowed to support the budget and the handout.
A majority of pan-democrats said they would vote against the budget but abstain on the handout proposal.
Independent Paul Tse Wai-chun, representing the tourism sector, said he would vote for the main bill and was likely to abstain on the handout.
'In principle I am against giving away cash. There are better priorities on which the government should spend money.
'Abstention effectively means opposition. It's just opposition without doing it so strongly,' he said.
People Power's Wong Yuk-man and Albert Chan Wai-yip, normally staunch opponents of the government, said they would vote for the handout but against the budget bill.
'We have been advocating it [the handout] for three years,' Wong said.
Pan-democrats will table 16 amendments, including proposals to cut the salaries of four senior officials and funding for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. But they are expected to be defeated.
Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee: 'Bureaus and officials are bound to have people who dislike them. For the entirety of the budget, we will support the bill but not these 16 amendments.'
This proportion of those questioned expressed dissatisfaction with lawmakers' performance: 51%