New Legco hearing for old-age benefit
Welfare secretary says government will stand firm on its plans for an allowance for the elderly as critics call for more consultation
Joshua But and Tony Cheung
A funding application for a new old-age allowance will be tabled in Legco again in two weeks, after lawmakers failed to vote on the issue on Tuesday.
Despite calls for more flexibility, the government refused to make any concessions on the conditions of the scheme or to backdate payments to October 1, citing a longstanding convention in financial discipline.
"We have allowed maximum flexibility and there is no room for changes," Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said yesterday.
Cheung reiterated the firm stance as the Business and Professionals Alliance, a supporter of the plan, said the government needed to try harder to consult stakeholders in its policies.
The allowance proposal, which is seeking HK$3.1 billion in funding, is likely to secure enough support at the November 16 vote on the Legislative Council's finance committee.
But alliance chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, who also chairs the Legco House Committee, said the new administration should learn a lesson from the saga.
"It is understandable that the chief executive wants to turn his election promises into government policies," he said. "But unlike election promises, government policies need time to brew and it is apparent that more consultation is needed."
The plan was scheduled to be put to the vote on Tuesday, but lawmakers had not finished scrutinising it by the end of a four-hour meeting.
Cheung said it was "unfortunate" the monthly payment of HK$2,200 to about 400,000 elderly poor was set to be delayed. He said the government would stick to the original proposal of applying a means test for everyone aged over 65: applicants must meet the monthly income cap of HK$6,660 and an asset limit of HK$186,000.
Julia Leung Fung-yee, acting Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, said the payments could be backdated only to the first day of the month the proposal was passed. It means that beneficiaries would not be paid the allowance for October.
Andrew Leung said the executive and legislative branches of the government had long had a chilly relationship and this would not change overnight.
Today, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is expected to be grilled on the proposal in his second Legco question-and-answer session. Lawmakers from the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions, as well as pan-democrats, have vowed to question him about his handling of the controversy.
FTU lawmaker Chan Yuen-han complained that the administration had not given Legco due respect. "I will ask, and I will tell him: you have to consider us, the executive and the legislative [branches] should respect each other," she said.
Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok of the Civic Party said he would continue to call for the backdating of the proposal to October 1.
"I don't see why the allowance cannot be backdated to October 1; it is just [a matter of] the chief executive's will and a political decision," he said.