Court ruling on welfare may fuel anger against mainland Chinese immigrants

Michael Chugani says the court decisionon social welfare for immigrants is likely to aggravate tension between locals and mainlanders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 4:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 6:47am

Where have all the naysayers gone? Just weeks ago they were writing the death sentence for Hong Kong's rule of law after the Executive Council rejected Ricky Wong Wai-kay's TV licence application.

But Hong Kong's highest court proved in a bold ruling this month that our rule of law is very much alive and kicking. It declared unconstitutional the government's policy of denying welfare to new immigrations.

Silence from the naysayers greeted the court's ruling. Applauding would not have served their political agenda. These naysayers claimed that the central government had instructed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to reject Wong's TV licence application. Then they thrashed Beijing's liaison office here for alleged meddling in local affairs by lobbying legislators to vote against forcing the government to release confidential documents on the licence issue.

But how do you square Beijing's supposed opposition to Wong having a licence with state-owned China Mobile selling him a subsidiary that would enable him to start an internet and telecoms-based TV station? You can't.

The story now is that the sale had Beijing's blessing, which is why the Office of the Communications Authority isn't even bothering with a routine check for any possible conflict of interest. But if Beijing had played a role, isn't that meddling in local affairs? Surely that's exactly the kind of fodder that would have prompted the naysayers to demand a probe by the authority.

But again silence. I'll let the naysayers deal with their conscience however they want.

In its forceful declaration of independence, Hong Kong's highest court also opened a can of worms involving mainlanders in Hong Kong. Its ruling that new immigrants - mostly mainlanders - have a constitutional right to government handouts clashed head-on with public opinion. Judges don't rule according to public opinion, and it may be Scrooge-like at this festive time of year to say that needy new immigrants who haven't contributed to society shouldn't be allowed to drain the public purse.

But that is the widespread public view. One veteran local journalist actually told me the five judges should be shot for their ruling. Animosity towards mainlanders can only worsen now that another mainland immigrant, encouraged by the ruling, has filed a court case demanding public housing. The bitter joke doing the rounds is that Hongkongers already have to compete with mainlanders for hospital beds, school places, affordable homes, baby milk powder and MTR space but must now also pay for their welfare and may have to compete with them for public housing, too.

I have warned many times that the issue of mainlanders and social benefits is a ticking time bomb that has to be dealt with soon. The court ruling brought the burning fuse closer to the bomb.

But politicians and government officials prefer to squabble over TV licences and making Manila kowtow for the hostage tragedy.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.