Old age allowance

Lawmakers move 110 motions to delay debate on old-age allowance

Pan-democrat lawmakers move 110 motions in latest attempt to force scrapping of means test

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 4:23am

Lawmakers used delaying tactics for more than five hours yesterday to block approval of the government's proposed old-age living allowance.

"Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, of the League of Social Democrats, and the Labour Party's Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung conducted the filibuster in the meeting of Legco's finance committee while protesters demonstrated outside.

They moved 110 motions for amendments, a tactic designed to push the government to drop the means test attached to the subsidy plan. All 110 were vetoed.

It was the fourth time that the application for HK$3.1 billion in funding for the HK$2,200-a- month allowance had been discussed by the committee since the end of last month. It is scheduled to resume next Friday.

At one point, committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan rebuked Leung for repeatedly asking questions about house rules. "You're pretending you don't understand … And you are burning up the council's time."

Leung insisted that the filibuster was necessary even though it would delay payment of the new allowance to the elderly.

"The old people cannot be selfish," he said. "If the means test isn't removed, I see no chance of [chief executive] Leung Chun-ying introducing a universal retirement protection scheme."

Such a scheme would be an important tool for achieving a fair redistribution of wealth, he said.

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the secretary for labour and welfare, said: "It's paradoxical and unimaginable for lawmakers to ask for more measures to combat poverty while procrastinating on the allowance."

He reiterated there was no room for amendments and he hoped to have the bill passed later this month.

Those aged 65 and above would be eligible for the allowance - an improvement on the current HK$1,090-a-month allowance - but they would have to prove their monthly income is not more than HK$6,660 and their assets does not exceed HK$186,000.

The Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) objected to Leung Kwok-hung's delaying tactics even though the group does not support the means test.

"The filibuster will seriously delay the process of approval," said FTU lawmaker Chan Yuen-han. "Our stance is that the elderly should get the money as soon as possible."

Chan's colleague Wong Kwok-hing called on committee members to meet during the night to speed up the process.

Outside Legco, two groups of demonstrators, from the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps, staged protests.