Hong Kong is experiencing record high unemployment and many families have seen the value of their homes plummet to new lows. Our government is facing a ballooning budget deficit that badly needs to be plugged. Yet, by all accounts, Hong Kong is anything but poor. With a per capita gross domestic product of $186,630 Hong Kong's living standards rank 12th in the world, according to estimates by The Economist magazine. That puts the city ahead of Britain, its former colonial master, and China, its sovereign. But we are not giving as much as we should, at least not officially. Although Hong Kong people donate hundreds of millions of dollars to both local and international charities, the government has only one foreign aid programme in the form of a Disaster Relief Fund that has a paltry yearly budget of $50 million. Last year, it disbursed merely $18.8 million, because its terms of reference confine it to providing relief to natural disasters. What we spent was far less than the level set by the United Nations, which recommends a rich country should spend 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product on foreign aid. Compared with Britain, which spent US$4.5 billion on bilateral and multilateral aid, or 0.32 per cent of its GDP, what Hong Kong spent was but a miniscule per cent of the sum total of its economic output. Worst, while the mainland was the largest recipient of foreign aid, receiving US$1.73 billion, Hong Kong, as the richest part of China, has failed to give a helping hand to the rest of the country. Rather, the central government has recently given Hong Kong a consignment of free medical supplies to help it fight Sars. To be sure, the foreign aid programmes of many governments are political tools aimed at achieving other agendas, such as getting a favourable vote from a recipient country in an international forum or a tacit understanding that the aid money will be used to buy services from companies from the donor country. For this reason, it may even be argued that Hong Kong, as an autonomous part of China with no role to play in foreign affairs, should not get involved in anything as political as foreign aid. But that would be a narrow view. As a well-off society, Hong Kong should try to fulfil its moral obligation of helping the less fortunate members of this global village. We may not be able to have an aid programme that is entirely free of politics, but our status as a non-sovereign polity should give us flexibility to dispense aid more freely. It would help if we could get around political constraints by doing it through non-governmental organisations. How about adjusting the Hong Kong Jockey Club's betting duties on the condition that funds poverty relief, education and conservation programmes in poor countries? One obvious beneficiary of our aid programmes should be the mainland, which has a far lower standard of living than we have. And even though we should not harbour any ulterior motives in trying to give, the reality is we may have to do it for more than altruistic purposes in the case of the mainland. To placate Hong Kong people's anxieties about its return to China, the Basic Law exempts us from paying any taxes to the central government, even though the poorest province in the mainland has that duty. But it is obviously in Hong Kong's interest to be seen to be contributing to the development of the nation. Since we can't do it through taxes, we will have to find creative means of doing that. One good idea would be to set up a scholarship fund for students from the mainland, and other less well-off countries, to study here. We would be enriching ourselves and others by extending a helping hand.