Lawmakers' poverty fact-finding trip to Europe is scrapped

Lawmakers' costly trip to Sweden and Finland is scrapped in favour of Japan and Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 6:40am

Lawmakers have scrapped plans for a poverty fact-finding trip to northern Europe.

They decided the money would be better spent visiting Taiwan and Japan, which are more akin to Hong Kong.

The Sunday Morning Post revealed two weeks ago that the week-long trip to Sweden and Finland - two of the world's most expensive countries - could cost taxpayers HK$565,000. Members of the Legislative Council's subcommittee on poverty announced the new plans on Friday after lawmakers questioned the original destinations.

They asked whether Sweden and Finland were appropriate choices, given how different their economies and demographics were from Hong Kong's.

"A few lawmakers raised concerns over the trip to Europe, so we've decided to switch to Asia," said subcommittee chairman Frederick Fung Kin-kee.

Fung said those lawmakers weren't present at the previous meeting when the initial destinations were chosen.

"Circumstances in Japan and Taiwan are more similar to what we have in Hong Kong. Also, the trip will be much cheaper."

Keeping the fact-finding mission within the region will also give them more time.

"We can maximise the time in our week-long trip if we go somewhere closer. Going to Europe would have meant two days of travelling and only five days of actually experiencing and learning about their systems."

Fung said lawmakers chose Finland and Sweden for their different approach to welfare, social security and dealing with an ageing population.

But as the Post reported, they also levy taxes at much higher rates and make more generous welfare provisions.

Sweden has one of the highest marginal tax rates in the world - currently 56.6 per cent - with Finland close behind on 51.13 per cent. Hong Kong's personal tax rate tops out at 15 per cent.

Dr Law Chi-kwong, a member of the Commission on Poverty and head of the Community Care Fund, previously said that studying the two countries would not be useful models for Hong Kong given their dissimilarities.

The funds for the trip will come out of the HK$55,000 allotted to each lawmaker per term for overseas duty trips.

It is not yet clear how many of the subcommittee's 22 members will join the fact-finding mission.

Trade unionist lawmaker Chan Yuen-han said at the meeting: "Japan has dealt with their ageing population very well, and I think we would get more out of visiting them instead.

"If we are going to [Finland and Sweden], I definitely will not go. But if it's Japan and Taiwan, I'll consider going."