Catholic Church runs ad to press government for policy reforms

In open letter in newspapers, the Hong Kong diocese urges government to implement fairer housing, education and welfare policies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 3:16am

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has taken out newpaper advertisements pressing the government to overhaul its policies on housing, education and welfare.

An advert published in today's South China Morning Post and Ming Pao Daily in the form of an open letter covers two pages under the heading "Some Proposals for the New Government of HKSAR from the Catholic Church in Hong Kong".

The church ran a similar advertisement on the theme of universal suffrage in February.

In today's advert, the diocese urges the government to help find homes for people amid soaring property prices, as "it is hard to purchase a residential flat, not to mention live well".

The administration should also set up an "income subsidy scheme" for the working poor who do not receive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance.

The open letter says more than one million people now live below the poverty line.

"This is an abnormal phenomenon in which rocketing property prices have exceeded economic growth, [which] has failed to bring improvements to the quality of life for the local citizens," it says. "A society that neglects the rich-poor disparity is not worthy of being called an advanced or civilised society."

The disparity had led to "disharmony and instability, as well as aggravating internal conflicts and divisions in Hong Kong society".

A comprehensive long-term population planning policy must be formulated as soon as possible, the letter says.

The diocese also hopes the government will improve retirement protection policies, promote social mobility and take better care of ethnic minorities, hinting that the government's use of "sweeteners" to ease social tensions showed its insincerity about solving social problems.

Dominic Yung Yuk-yu, director of the Catholic Social Communications Office, said the letter was not directed at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying personally. "Our letter's content does not care about the question of 'who'," Yung said.

He said the diocese might publish a third letter soon, and that all of its letters were intended to offer "a hand of friendliness" to the government. He said that a copy had been delivered to the Office of the Chief Executive.

The diocese's open letter in February roused public debate as it was seen as an unprecedented attempt by the religious group to press for universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election.

The diocese's relationship with the government deteriorated after the latter pushed through plans to reform the way schools were managed, which the church said would weaken its control over its schools. The diocese lost its legal challenge in the Court of Final Appeal in October last year.

Dr Chan Kin-man, associate professor of sociology at the Chinese University, said it was normal for the Catholic Church around the world to speak out on issues relating to social justice.

He said he believed the letter also showed that the diocese had hope in Leung's administration in dealing with livelihood issues.

"They didn't raise these ideas during the Donald Tsang Yam-kuen era," Chan said of Leung's predecessor.