The government, seeking legislators' approval for its share of the HK$10 billion Community Care Fund, disclosed yesterday that big business, intended to be a 50-50 partner, had so far given only HK$680 million.
'I hope lawmakers will approve the government's HK$5 billion injection to the fund regardless of the amount that the private sector has donated,' home affairs minister Tsang Tak-sing said.
Despite Tsang's plea, the finance committee deferred voting to next week after a lengthy discussion.
Members asked why business should contribute at all.
'Poverty alleviation is the basic work of the government. Why should the government ask the private sector to get involved,' asked Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah.
Shortly after unveiling the fund in his policy address last October, chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said five property tycoons had pledged donations adding up to HK$1.6 billion.
Yesterday Tsang Tak-sing said that while only HK$680 million had been collected, the government had received pledges of a further HK$1.12 billion, some of which would be paid in instalments over three years.
'In fact, many organisations have promised to contribute to the fund once they see how it operates. And we believe that we will see more contributions,' the minister said.
Liberal Party honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun said donating to the fund was like paying tax.
'I myself also have not contributed to the fund,' the tycoon said. 'I would rather donate to other welfare organisations,' he said.
Businessmen donating to charities wanted to know and have a say on what the money would do. 'But if I give the money to the government, I do not know what the government will do with it,' he said.
The government, with its strong finances, did not need money from the private sector, Tien said.
The fund is intended to help people who do not benefit from existing relief measures. Ten schemes costing HK$723 million and benefiting 300,000 people have already been announced. Lawmakers bombarded one of these, a HK$165.9 million plan to subsidise overseas tours for 240,000 poor pupils, with HK$3,000 maximum funding for each one.
'How can you justify it as a poverty relief measure? It is so hard to understand,' education legislator Cheung Man-Kwong said.
Democrat legislator James To Kun-sun asked if the government could offer students the choice of how to use the HK$3,000.
'Can you simply give the money to the students so that they can decide how to spend it? They may think buying a computer or learning a language is better than going for overseas study tours,' he said.
Law Chi-kwong, chairman of the Community Care Fund's executive committee, replied that the scheme hoped to enrich the vision of children from poor families: 'There are appeals that students from these families cannot travel abroad.'
The meeting ended after two hours with many legislators still waiting to ask questions.