Prisoners in line for HK$6,000 handout

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am


First they won the right to vote, now Hong Kong's prisoners look set to receive the HK$6,000 cash handout promised by the government.

But they won't be getting the money until those in more need are taken care of first, said a source familiar with the government's plans.

Details of how and when prison inmates - who won the right to vote after a legal battle in 2009 - will get the cash are not available, but around 5,000 convicts who are permanent residents qualify.

The windfall was announced after a budget U-turn by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in March.

'It would be unjustifiable not to give inmates who are eligible to vote the cash handout,' a government official told the Sunday Morning Post.

The government plans to start registration in early September and the first batch are expected to get the HK$6,000 by the end of the year.

'The handout will be distributed in five batches and age is one of the preferred options for prioritising who gets it and when. The elderly should be the first batch receiving the handout,' the official said.

To qualify, people must have a personal bank account in Hong Kong and will need to register at the bank before the cash goes into the account.

'Permanent residents who have emigrated also have to hold an account opened at a Hong Kong-based bank,' the person familiar with the plans said. 'You can't get the cash if you rush to open a new account at an HSBC branch in Canada.'

Officials will verify the banking information given to avoid duplicating handouts in cases of people with more than one bank account. 'It will take some time for various government departments to complete the exercise because we have to comply with privacy laws when we process personal information we collect during the process,' the source said. Officials estimate there are 27 million personal accounts at more than 20 city-based banks.

Permanent residents without a Hong Kong bank account will have to register at a post office. An option being considered is to send cheques.

Another government source said an application would be made to the Legislative Council's finance committee in the third quarter to open a directorate-post position for someone to co-ordinate the exercise.

The government has earmarked HK$37 billion for the plan.

Last week the Post revealed there had been a rush to sign up for permanent residency in the four weeks immediately after Tsang's announcement, more than doubling from 4,167 in February to 9,291 in March. The figure dropped back in April to 4,689, the Immigration Department said.

The government still has to hammer out the details, such as a cut-off date to qualify for the cash.

James To Kun-sun, chairman of Legco's security panel, said the government could face a judicial review if inmates were denied the handout.

He said: 'The concept behind the cash handout plan is giving the cash to adult permanent residents.

'There is no justification for the government not to give the handout to eligible inmates.'