Legco gets more control over double stamp duty property-cooling measure

Government makes concession amid fears stamp duty bill could fail

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 2:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 1:12am

Lawmakers will have a chance to block any changes to a controversial property-cooling measure before they take effect after a concession from the government.

The Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau told lawmakers debating double stamp duty – under which buyers who own other properties and those who are not permanent residents must pay higher taxes – of the change yesterday.

The government has collected the tax since February last year but a bill that will formally make it law is still going through the Legislative Council.

Like most indirect taxes, it is subject to so-called negative vetting, meaning lawmakers only vote on it after implementation. But the bureau said any changes to the tax rate would instead be approved in advance.

Pan-democrats believe negative vetting gives the government too much power, and the bureau needs their votes because some usually government-friendly pro-business lawmakers fiercely oppose the tax, which they say harms economic freedom.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun welcomed the concession, adding: “The change is probably because of the administration’s worries about not securing enough votes.”

Legco passed another cooling measure, the buyers’ stamp duty, in February after a 35-hour debate. But 23 pan-democrats walked out in protest after the housing minister offered only a verbal promise to consult lawmakers before increasing the tax.

To said his party’s six lawmakers would vote in favour of the double stamp duty but would continue to push for several amendments.