The government has snubbed a call by lawmakers to move more slowly in tabling its controversial old age allowance scheme in the Finance Committee this week.
Lawmakers in the welfare panel passed a motion on Monday urging the government not to press ahead with its fast-track plan to bring the measure before the committee on Friday.
But Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told the panel meeting that the new allowance scheme must follow its original schedule.
He also defended the allowance’s means test, which is the focus of most of the opposition from lawmakers. “It is unfeasible to scrap the means test,” he told the meeting. “If it is scrapped, it will be disastrous.”
Without a means test, he said, the cost of the programme will balloon from an estimated HK$16.2 billion to HK$35.1 billion by 2041.
The proposed monthly HK$2,200 allowance, for those aged 65 and older, has sparked debate since the government insists on imposing a means test on all applicants, including those 70 and older.
The panel motion, moved by Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, passed in an 11-4 vote with one abstention.
The 11 supporting votes were largely pan-democrats plus four pro-establishment lawmakers – three from the Federation of Trade Unions and medical sector legislator Dr Leung Ka-lau.
Opposing the motion were three lawmakers from the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong plus Liberal Frankie Yick Chi-ming. Labour sector legislator Poon Siu-ping abstained.
The motion also urged the government to back-date the starting day of the allowance to October 1, no matter when the funding request is approved.
The public will air their opinions in the welfare panel on Thursday.
The DAB and the FTU said they remained undecided over whether to support the funding request. The DAB took a somewhat softer stance towards the issue at the weekend, saying it would reconsider the welfare minister’s latest proposal of an annual review.