Finally, there is good news for our elderly citizens. In a dramatic turnaround nine days ago, a means-tested HK$2,200 monthly allowance for those aged 65 and above was passed after the government changed its tactics in the legislature. Lawmakers were first asked to approve funding for new civil service posts to operate the scheme. The actual expenditure on the allowance will be passed later as part of the government's budget next year.
By changing tactics, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung effectively ended 29 hours of filibustering by "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung. The government says the approval for the new posts implies support for the allowance. Subject to the budget's approval next year, and to a means test, some 290,000 old people are expected to get the handout from April. The rebel lawmaker has already vowed to try to block the budget with similar tactics.
First raised by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his election platform, the old-age living allowance is no doubt a welcome step to help the needy. It should have been approved expeditiously when tabled to Legco two months ago. Unfortunately, some lawmakers withheld their support, hoping to force the government to drop the means test for the allowance or ease its terms so more old people benefit, and introduce a universal pension scheme. Since the handout will date back to the month it is approved, the delay means two months of allowance foregone for the elderly. That a simple and straightforward goodwill initiative by the new leader has turned into a political tussle with the new Legco is regrettable.
Lawmakers are understandably frustrated by their limited power to shape public policy. Some may, therefore, try to advance their cause by exploiting the rules of procedure. While some of the issues behind the stand-off are worthy of public attention, the filibuster appears to have brought nothing more than frustration and delay. Political gain has to be weighed against the consequences. In the case of the old-age allowance, it is the loss not just of two months' allowance for the elderly but also civil service efficiency, and the delay in approving funding for other pressing matters.
By putting politics ahead of livelihood issues, rebel lawmakers are turning their backs on the people. Taking things to the extreme may only provoke fatigue and outrage. In the end, it's the image and reputation of the legislature that suffer.