Fresh call for rates relief and green tax

Fox Yi Hu

DAB members yesterday demonstrated to renew their call for rates relief, ahead of Wednesday's budget speech.

In another protest, environmentalists marched to government headquarters to demand the introduction of a green tax.

Nearly 200 members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, led by legislator Chan Kam-lam, marched from Chater Garden to the Central Government Offices, calling for an exemption from paying property rates for two quarters.

'We believe that rates relief can benefit the greatest number of people,' Mr Chan said. 'The budget surplus will likely reach HK$40 billion so we hope citizens can all share the fruits of economic growth.'

Rates are paid in advance at the end of the first month in each quarter. They are set at 5 per cent of rateable value, which is the estimated annual rental value at a particular date. The financial secretary's 'information pack' on the budget estimates that rates make up 6 per cent of total revenue, at HK$15.4 billion.

In 2003, the government exempted payment of one quarter's rates to mitigate the economic impact of the Sars outbreak.

The DAB demonstrators suggested a cap of HK$2,500 be set on the rates exemption, saying most lower-income earners paid less than HK$1,000 a quarter in rates. They said a survey by the party last month showed more than 70 per cent of respondents supported rates relief.

Meanwhile, members of the Green Community marched from HSBC headquarters to the Central Government Offices to demand the budget include detailed plans for the introduction of a green tax.

They said they were disappointed with the lack of progress in bringing in the new tax, which was mentioned in last year's budget. They suggested the government levy duties on polluting products such as solid waste, plastic bags and tyres.

The idea of introducing a goods and services tax to broaden the tax base had met strong opposition, said Green Community vice-chairman Kwan Wing-yip. 'But a green tax can help fill government coffers while protecting the environment - it's more likely to be accepted.'