Hong Kong government adviser on pension plan accuses officials of treating him unfairly by stoking fears of higher taxes

Academic queries need for public consultation and says officials are trying to link his proposal to rising taxes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 3:24am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 3:24am

The academic whose study on retirement protection forms the blueprint of proposals put forward yesterday attacked the government for dragging its feet on implementing a universal pension scheme and said he had been unfairly treated in the consultation.

Nelson Chow Wing-sun of the University of Hong Kong, who has advised the government on retirement issues since the 1980s, held his first press briefing in 30 years and asked: “If the government’s stance is that it does not want to implement a universal retirement scheme, why does it want to consult the public?”

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In August last year, a study commissioned by the government and conducted by Chow floated a proposal to let everyone aged 65 or above – rich or poor – receive a pension of HK$3,000 a month without a means test.

At the launch of the public consultation yesterday, officials put forward two proposals. One is a universal scheme based on Chow’s idea. The other is a non-universal scheme with eligibility criteria including an asset limit of no more than HK$80,000 for an elderly person living alone.

The government has also come up with different scenarios on who should foot the bill. Under the universal proposal, that could mean raising profits tax by 4.2 percentage point or increasing salaries tax by 8.3 percentage points.

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“The government is trying to say that my proposal will be very bad for public finances. It is very unfair for them to do so,” Chow said. “The government is trying to get people not to support a universal protection scheme.”

He said the consultation would further divide the city.

Chow also revealed a revised proposal, setting an asset limit of HK$5 million so that 95 per cent of elderly benefit. The asset limit excludes residential property.

He calculated that if the government injected a one-off fund of HK$100 billion into the pension pool, there would still be HK$59.1 billion left in the bag by 2064. In his original proposal, with everyone entitled to a pension and a HK$50 billion pool, the deficit would hit HK$511 billion by 2064.

Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said although not every elderly person would benefit under Chow’s new proposal, the principle was still universal.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said: “I have a lot of respect for Dr Chow … which is why we invited him to do this report. But it is only a research report … turning it into policy is a different matter.”

Stanley Lau Chin-ho, honorary president of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, opposed both proposals because companies would need to pay more tax.