Hong Kong political, charity groups urge using budget surplus on poor
Some of estimated HK$60b should be used to increase rent and utility subsidies, groups say
Joanna Chiu and Phila Siu
Political and charity groups converged on government headquarters yesterday to urge Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah to use the huge surplus to help lift the city's most vulnerable out of poverty.
Tsang had forecast a HK$3.4 billion deficit for the fiscal year, but revenue from land sales and stamp duties resulted in a HK$40 billion surplus in just the first three quarters. The government's fiscal savings now amount to more than HK$1.5 trillion.
"They're pretending they don't have money but they're actually hoarding it and letting rents skyrocket while we 'n-nothings' are still getting nothing," said Sham Shui Po resident Coco Chiu, 35, who was part of the largest protest of more than 200 people, organised by the Society for Community Organisation (SoCo). The term "n-nothing" refers to low-income people who do not receive any form of government assistance.
Chiu carried a large placard depicting a pudgy, naked Tsang grinning as gold ingots fell around him.
"I don't want to live next to a smelly and noisy garbage depot anymore. It's hard to focus on schoolwork," said 10-year-old marcher Yeung Ka-on, whose family has been on the waiting list for public housing for six years.
Other groups calling for more relief measures yesterday included the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union and the Neighbourhood and Workers Senior Centre.
Veteran DAB member Christopher Chung Shu-kun announced his party's recommendations for ways to allocate the surplus to assist low-income people. The list included increasing rent and utility subsidies, waiving property taxes, establishing daycare centres to allow mothers to work, and providing job placement services for the unemployed.
Tsang will unveil the administration's first budget on Wednesday next week.
Meanwhile, the Accounting Development Foundation polled 353 accountants and accounting students last month on their expectations for the budget and tax mechanisms.
More than 80 per cent wanted the basic allowance to be increased, while 63 per cent wanted a tax rebate. Only 33 per cent supported the option of a cash handout, like in 2011, when residents received HK$6,000.
Some 54 per cent disapproved of a handout.
The foundation, a non-profit organisation for those working in the field of accounting, forecasts the surplus for the 2012-2013 financial year to total more than HK$60 billion.