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  • Jul 26, 2014
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POLITICS

Lawmakers plan trip costing up to HK$560,000 to study poverty

Lawmakers looking at ways of dealing with poverty in HK plan a week-long fact-finding trip to two of world's most expensive cities

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 May, 2013, 6:05am

Lawmakers are considering spending up to HK$560,000 of public money on a week-long trip to find ways to deal with one of Hong Kong's most pressing problems - poverty.

They are planning a fact-finding mission to Sweden and Finland, two of the most expensive countries in the world.

The trip in August is described in briefing documents as a chance to study those countries' experience in alleviating poverty and addressing problems arising from an ageing population.

The documents, submitted to the Legislative Council subcommittee on poverty, outline the cost of air tickets, hotel rooms, airport tax, travel insurance, meals and travelling expenses.

If the lawmakers fly economy class, the cost of the trip works out at HK$25,698 per person including all expenses, while flying business class raises the figure to HK$45,098.

The funds will come from the HK$55,000 each lawmaker is allotted, per term, for overseas duty trips.

The subcommittee has 22 members, but it's not clear how many of them will join the trip. If all 22 join the trip, the bill will come to just over HK$565,000.

"No one would be so stupid as to fly business, I think," said lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung. He hoped the visit would provide ideas for the city's long-term welfare planning.

But Dr Law Chi-kwong, a member of the Commission on Poverty and head of the Community Care Fund, said a study of welfare states like Sweden and Finland wouldn't be very useful.

Hong Kong's wealth gap was very wide, while the two countries had relatively little poverty, Law said. "Of course, it would be wonderful if [Hong Kong] could be like Sweden, but we are too far from that and it's impossible to get there," he said.

Everything from the tax system to government policy was too different, Law said.

Sweden used to have a marginal personal tax rate of 90 per cent, which was lowered in recent decades to about 60 per cent. Hong Kong's personal tax rate tops out at 15 per cent.

"In [Hong Kong's] case, Singapore, Australia or New Zealand would be more related and useful cases to study," Law said. Those countries are in situations similar to Hong Kong's, but were ahead of the city in the development of their welfare systems.

Another lawmaker on the subcommittee, Peter Cheung Kwok-che, said he had yet to decide whether to take part in the trip, but added: "Both places have pressing problems with their elderly populations, and they have policies on retirement protection and pensions."

The subcommittee felt Singapore and Australia had already been examined, he said.

Lawmakers took 11 overseas trips in the previous term. Total funds used for the trips amounted to HK$3,834,620, including the expenses of lawmakers and accompanying secretarial staff.

The total budget for overseas visits for all 70 lawmakers in their four-year-term is HK$3.85 million. The last overseas trip to study poverty alleviation was in 2009, when eight legislators visited Taiwan and South Korea. The week-long trip cost HK$201,150.

Lo Kam-yung, who lives in a rooftop shack, earns HK$7,000 a month and belongs to one of the estimated 194,000 working poor families in the city, according to Oxfam Hong Kong.

She has little interest in what overseas trips lawmakers take.

She is more concerned about whether they would truly work for the needs of the poor. "We met with [Democratic Party lawmaker] Albert Ho Chun-yan once [about housing issues], but never heard from him again," she said.

 


Worlds Apart

SWEDEN

Population: 9.6 million
GDP per capita: US$57,114
Top marginal tax rate: 56.6 per cent
Overall business tax rate (as proportion of profits): 53 per cent

 

FINLAND

Population: 5.4 million
GDP per capita: US$48,812
Top marginal tax rate: 51.13 per cent
Overall business tax rate (as proportion of profits): 40.6 per cent

 

HONG KONG

Population: 7 million
GDP per capita: US$35,156
Top marginal tax rate: 17 per cent
Overall business tax rate (as proportion of profits): 23 per cent

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This article is now closed to comments

johnwe
It makes not sense to study poverty in two of the richest countries in Europe who have almost zero (0) poverty. It is just a junket for a free holiday with fares, hotel, local transportation and food
provided.
What kind of people have we got in LEGCO? If they are not wasting our money by obstructing lawful and peaceful procedures, they wasting our money on trips without rhyme or reason.
Can we find out what substantive result came out of the trips to Taiwan and South Korea before the present lot of free-spenders even talk about taking another all expenses paid holiday.
They are no better than the shameless Timothy Tong - worse as it is for their own pleasure and benefit.
Giwaffe
Our lawmakers most certainly do not have any need to visit Sweden or Finland.
If it isn't already blatantly obvious, pervasive income inequality is the key cause of poverty. It goes without saying that income inequality can be addressed by worker empowerment through pro-worker labor legislation and relatively high tax rates to equalize income disparities.
Sticks Evans
This has got to be one of the funniest places to live on earth. The Hospital Authority won't give me a job because I am American although I am in a field they list with a crisis shortage. But now I am so happy they will not because I pay little or no taxes being broke here not being able to land work. So I am not funding these junkets.
I wonder if the people involved realize how comical they look? I lived in Denmark and it was a great socialist inclusive government but I do not think Hong Kong will find the answers traveling to that region of the world. Perhaps they need to look within.
dynamco
well Edward Yau took 59 overseas trips in his 60 months of doing nothing as head of the Environment Bureau and what did those achieve ? he even lead a delegation to Scandinavia to see how they import waste to keep their incinerators operational, then on to England for an electric bus ride then to Scotland to visit a whiskey distillery. This greatly benefited the people of HKG. NOT.
Yet he still has a high paying job as the HK Mayor's office manager. The Legco members should go and study the poor people of HKG - then realize that there is nothing to study - poor is poor - do something about it.
2crazy4words
If they want to study poverty, it's on their doorstep in HK. They don't need to go to Sweden to find poor people, we have at least 200,000 of them.
Let's hope they don't miss the skiing season as that would be tragic.
TheFundamentals
They can find whatever they need on the internet, for a very tiny fraction of the price. Or I can do it for them for half of the price, max.
Half a million bucks could better be spent on the poor and the elderly. What a waste of public money. Shame.
olliereid
Since you quoted the business class prices, actually your headline is wrong isn't it? 22x 45098 is more like $992,000. A much more incendiary number.
Journalism using 'up to' in headlines the way advertising promotions use it, is very disconcerting. As is not-so-subtley juxtaposing briefing documents with anecdotes from poor people to unfairly imply something that you neglect to actually say: that you think it's over-spending.
You could try to make an argument for the poor return on investment for a lawmaker to go fact finding in Europe. But that would be both difficult and time consuming. So a stuttering series of half-truths will have to do as substitute for genuine reporting and / or commentary (which is this?)
wcbsslib
Enjoy the trip!
the sun also rises
Why choose faraway countries such as Sweden and Finland to be our lawmakers' targets of studying poverty problems ? I wonder.Why don't they choose Japan or Shanghai of which their population's structure:elderly people's population is growing fast and their economic system is smililar to Hongkong's ! Spending so much money by going so far away to two countries which tax rates are far higher than Hongkong's ! Have our lawmakers gone mad ? Or they just make use of the chance to tour abroad and enjoy themselves while spending public money as our corrupted Tong Hin-ming ? God knows.
Byebye
Perhaps start identify the problems we have already in our hands - it is obvious there are lots of data regarding such issues are readily available. Tax payer's blood-sweat-and-tears money should be put to good use, so please take this into consideration. If the present Government officials are not competent enough to come out with suggestions and ideas, perhaps it's time to start trimming the fats, and source competent workers with proven skills and positive attitude.

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