Lack of trust in Hong Kong government 'hampers poverty fight'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 10:30am

A lack of public trust in Leung Chun-ying's administration may hamper efforts to fight poverty, says the outgoing head of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.

Christine Fang Meng-sang said Hong Kong had the resources to alleviate poverty, but she was worried about how society could reach consensus in the current environment.

It is the lack of trust and solidarity in the government which is our big concern. Poverty is an issue which we need to harness in solidarity
Christine Fang Meng-sang

"It is the lack of trust and solidarity in the government which is our big concern," said Fang in a discussion with the South China Morning Post, which was also attended by her designated successor, Chua Hoi-wai. "Poverty is an issue which we need to harness in solidarity."

About 1.2 million Hongkongers live in poverty, and their situation is worsening as the income gap widens.

The government has faced a number of scandals recently and critics have accused the chief executive of making provocative speeches that have increasingly divided society.

At a meet-the-people event earlier this month, Leung said former executive councillors Franklin Lam Fan-keung and Barry Cheung Chun-yuen deserved apologies from those who reported them to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Lam was accused of using insider information, while Cheung was accused of borrowing money from a developer while he was head of the Urban Renewal Authority. The ICAC found that the allegations were unsubstantiated.

Leung also told the meeting that he had ordered the Education Bureau to prepare a report on teacher Alpais Lam Wai-sze, who was filmed swearing at police over their handling of a dispute.

The administration has also struggled to push ahead with recent policies and funding applications, including a failed landfill extension plan and delays to the implementation of an old age living allowance.

Yet Fang said she still had hopes that Leung would tackle poverty. "We need the political will," she said. "If the government is poor we have to find other ways to solve the problem, but we have money. We have expectations with Leung coming in and the establishment of the Commission on Poverty."

Fang compared Hong Kong with how Singapore tackled poverty through its Central Provident Fund.

"If you look at the Central Provident Fund, [the government] takes a strong hand in investing the fund and people rest assured: no matter how much cash we pay in, we get the security ... [it is] trust and solidarity."

Fang also said there had been progress compared with what the previous administration had achieved. "When [former chief executive] Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was here, we think political will was a big obstacle because he didn't really think poverty was a problem. He thought when the economy went up poverty would get better, but it did not turn out that way."

Chua said an official definition of poverty - likely to cover households living on less than half the city's median income - would be announced at a poverty summit on September 28.

"It is only a proxy to understand the poverty problem. We need to take many other indicators, such as conducting deprivation studies, to help families in real need," Chua told the South China Morning Post.