Old age allowance

Poor elderly may lose HK$2,200 after new scheme start date pushed back

Minister says proposed old age living allowance could be introduced later than planned after pan-democrats delay debate on funding

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2012, 2:55am

About 400,000 poor elderly could lose out on HK$2,200, the welfare minister said, after Legco voting on funding for a new old-age living allowance was put off.

The government had said that if the measure were approved yesterday, the HK$2,200-a-month allowance would have been backdated to October 1. Now Matthew Cheung Kin-chung says the allowance, if approved, may be backdated to November 1.

The new start date hinges on Legco's Finance Committee approving funding next month.

Cheung suggested the delay meant the government might not be able to distribute the allowance in March, even if it received approval next month.

"All the preparatory work is tightly linked and we don't have much space for flexibility," he said yesterday. "If the Finance Committee approves the funding later, the implementation date for the scheme will be delayed."

The proposal will be up for discussion by Legco's welfare panel again on Monday. It was also on the Finance Committee's agenda in a four-hour session on Tuesday night.

As the government requires a notice period of five working days to table its proposal again, it is understood the committee will discuss the matter on November 9 at the earliest, unless committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan waives the notice period requirement.

Matthew Cheung said the Tuesday meeting "cannot be held any more". He said he would discuss with his colleagues when to table the proposal again. "I am very disappointed that the meeting has been adjourned … we need to go back and discuss the actual time [and date] tonight."

The current old age allowance, widely called "fruit money", is HK$1,090 a month.

The Finance Committee was to have gone through a six-hour session yesterday to scrutinise the issue, in an agenda that included voting on the proposal.

But a lawmaker for the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions, Chan Yuen-han, who is also chairwoman of the welfare panel, tabled a motion at the start to adjourn the meeting.

"We believed that we should not be asked to vote on the proposal today, [since] we have not finished [discussing it on the welfare panel]," Chan said.

Pan-democrats also slammed the government for "disrespecting" Legco.

Leung Yiu-chung, from the Neighbourhood and Worker's Service Centre, said the government should allow enough discussion time for the welfare panel. "The government has never done things this way before."

Chan's motion was passed after two hours of debate, with 35 lawmakers voting in favour of the adjournment - including six FTU lawmakers, 26 out of 27 pan-democrats, and three independents: Poon Siu-ping, Martin Liao Cheung-kong and Paul Tse Wai-chun. Pan-democrat Claudia Mo Man-ching was absent.

The government only secured 23 lawmakers to vote against the motion, including 12 from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Michael Tien Puk-sun from the New People's Party, and the Liberal Party's Frankie Yick Chi-ming abstained.