Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying gave out HK$7.35 billion of sweeteners in his first question-and-answer session as he sought to move beyond a series of scandals that have battered his fledgling administration.
Faced with plunging popularity ratings and the resignation of a minister, Leung turned his appearance yesterday at the Legislative Council into a 'mini-policy address'.
He laid out plans to create a special old age allowance, build youth hostels and let eligible buyers purchase second-hand Home Ownership Scheme flats from January.
Lawmakers and academics said the proposals appeared to be an attempt to shore up Leung's political base against a barrage of controversy, including questions about illegal structures at his home.
Some legislators, including at least one previous ally, also criticised the chief executive for dodging their questions about the illegal structures and said he must do more to answer their concerns.
Leung arrived at Legco amid protests outside the building. Once in the chamber, he launched into a 20-minute speech, which he used to roll out a raft of measures, including a HK$2,200 monthly allowance for an estimated 400,000 qualified elderly.
He proposed spending HK$350 million to double the HK$500 medical vouchers due to about 700,000 eligible citizens. He would also spend HK$1 billion to help three NGOs build the first batch of a planned 3,000 youth hostel units.
Under another plan, 5,000 qualified buyers who currently live in private housing would be able to buy second-hand flats. But when the floor opened for questions, lawmakers continued to press Leung on political issues.
They included his leadership, the illegal structures, attacks on his integrity and his response to the suspicious death of Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang .
Leung said he would not comment on his illegal structures because of legal proceedings regarding his comments about the matter.
He was referring to lawsuits from two pan-Democratic lawmakers who have asked the Court of First Instance to review whether the chief executive's earlier denial about having illegal structures proves he is not 'a person of integrity' as required by the Basic Law.
But Eric Cheung Tat-ming, an assistant law professor with the University of Hong Kong, said it was unlikely that Leung's answers could affect the case.
'It is common for lawyers to advise their clients not to say anything before a lawsuit, but, for a chief executive, I think the public will not accept a personal reason,' he said.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun accused Leung of evading the illegal structure issue.
'While the livelihood measures announced today may win him some applause, those accolades are short-term and will be digested very soon,' To said.
Even Beijing-loyalist Wong Kwok-kin, a Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker who voted for Leung in the chief executive election, expressed disappointment at Leung's responses to questions about his integrity. 'He was avoiding the focus when answering the questions,' he said.
Political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung, of Chinese University, believed Leung adopted an evasive strategy because he was running out of ways to save his popularity.
'Leung has more support among the elderly and those with a lower education background,' Choy said.
'So he is proposing the new policies to secure his basic support. At least it will stop the bleeding.'