Vote on old-age allowance put off; lawmakers critical of government
Government disappointed with delay, but even allies accuse it of mishandling the proposal
A Legco committee last night put off a vote on the government's proposal to introduce a HK$2,200-a-month old-age living allowance, meaning the intended beneficiaries will not be paid the allowance this month.
A four-hour meeting of the finance committee ended with lawmakers still scrutinising the government's application for HK$3.1 billion to fund the measure. Committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan said discussions would resume on November 16 unless the government sought to bring forward debate.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung voiced his disappointment.
He reiterated that payments could not be backdated to October 1 unless the proposal was passed this month.
The government says everyone aged 65 and over would be eligible for the allowance - an improvement on the current HK$1,090-a-month allowance - but would have to undergo a means test. They would qualify if their monthly income was not more than HK$6,660 a month and their assets did not exceed HK$186,000.
At least 30 of the 69 lawmakers on the committee back the plan, with 24 pan-democrats opposed.
Radical pan-democrats want the means test scrapped, while the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions and the Democratic Party wanted those aged 70 and over exempted from the test.
Lawmakers criticised the government for its poor handling of the issue and for polarising society.
Industrial-sector representative Lam Tai-fai, seen as a government ally, said: "You are holding the elderly hostage … You are well aware that lawmakers do not oppose the allowance ... They are just saying your policy is not comprehensive."
Another government ally, real estate and construction-sector lawmaker Abraham Razack, of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, criticised the administration's refusal to consider raising the asset cap.
"I believe that the proposal will be passed …. But … your way of handling of the issue is hardly acceptable … [The government] has polarised society," he said.
It was driving a wedge between old people with assets under HK$186,000 and those with more, he said, and between the younger generation and the elderly by warning of escalating public spending on the allowance if the government acceded to the critics' demands.
Cheung said lawmakers planned to move at least 15 motions in connection with the proposal. The Labour Party's Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung plans to table one to condemn the government for publicising the plan before Legco had approved it.
Earlier in the day, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he would not scrap the means test or raise the asset cap.
"The government's stance on the proposal is that it will not make any adjustment to it," Leung said, speaking before an Executive Council meeting.