Old age allowance
Commonly known as "fruit money", the old age allowance is a monthly cash subsidy the Hong Kong government pays to senior citizens aged 65-69 with low incomes, and all elderly citizens aged 70 and over. The Leung Chun-ying administration in 2012 proposed to introduce a new means-tested subsidy called the Old Age Living Allowance, which provides HK$2,200 per month for the needy only.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam 'shaken' by old-age allowance outcry
Carrie Lam admits it is worrying that even a relief measure for the elderly poor can prove controversial in a city that is so 'ideologically divided'
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has admitted the old-age living allowance saga has shaken her confidence about achieving a consensus on political reforms.
Speaking frankly at a Chinese University lecture yesterday, Lam said politics in a city as ideologically divided as Hong Kong was a complex process.
"Look at the old-age living allowance saga - even a relief measure for the elderly can be controversial. We can see how big the differences in ideology are [in the current political climate]."
Fielding questions from 500 students, the No 2 in the government said she still aspired to achieve a wide consensus on the controversial arrangements for universal suffrage in 2017, which was likely to affect the election of the chief executive.
She expressed similar hopes for reforms to take effect by the 2016 Legislative Council election.
On her philosophy of leadership, Lam said she believed a good premier needed to "rock the boat".
She stressed that government policies must be driven by "pragmatism" rather than "romanticism". The government is currently trying to pass the funding application of the old-age living allowance, which proposes to give poor elderly a monthly payment of HK$2,200.
However, it failed to go to a vote in the Finance Committee on Tuesday, as the government and opposition lawmakers, who want to scrap a means test, both refused to back down.
The government will bring it forward again next week.
Students following such political battles did not shy away from tricky questions, asking Lam if she had been able to "get past her own conscience" to sleep well in the past four months as chief secretary.
Lam replied: "I will give myself 10 points on a scale of 10 [for conscience]. I sleep well every night, but just not quite enough."
Lam refused to comment on the pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989, although she did answer critics who mistrust Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
"Some people think he is an underground communist and have doubts about him. From what I see and hear, he acts according to the interests of Hong Kong people," she said.
Lam said she was deeply worried that the administration could meet with even greater difficulties if it could not regain the trust of the public quickly.
Lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said Lam had acknowledged that the current political climate had made it difficult to reach a consensus in society. But Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan disagreed.
"The consensus is already set out in the Basic Law as it suggests that Hong Kong will achieve universal suffrage with genuine democracy … So how could there be no consensus?"
The Democratic Party's Helena Wong Pik-wan said: "[Consensus] is always difficult … and the previous administration failed its job," she said. "This time the government must take the initiative to win the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers."