AN overwhelming 2,500 submissions have been received on the proposed old-age pension scheme, making it by far the biggest and most energetic public consultation conducted in recent years. A similar exercise on health funding conducted a year ago prompted 494 responses. At the close of consultation yesterday, a government spokesman admitted officials had had difficulty coping with the submissions, most of which flooded in over the weekend. The opinions from business groups, labour unions, and various grass-root and political organisations will take the Government's special taskforce on the controversial scheme at least a month to analyse. A final decision on how Hong Kong should provide for the financial needs of its elderly is expected by the end of the year. The Government has insisted the final product will reflect views from the community and China. A senior Chinese official said yesterday that China favoured a compulsory provident fund scheme instead of a pension scheme. 'The scheme is fundamentally flawed. It has adopted a Western system to solve Hong Kong's problems,' the official said. China's stance was that retirement protection and welfare should be separate. Beijing favoured a mixed compulsory provident fund under which both the Government and the private sector could provide retirement protection to all the working population, he said. In a commentary issued last night, the quasi-official Hong Kong China News Agency said the Government would be acting 'irresponsibly' if it went ahead with the pension scheme regardless of the opposition views. The government spokesman said negotiations with Beijing had not begun, although initial contact had been made through the Joint Liaison Group. Despite government claims that supporters of the plan outnumbered opponents by 'impressively large margins', it has indicated amendments are needed. The scheme will entitle people over 65 to a monthly pension of $2,300. Opponents say that because the elderly will not be means-tested, it will be very expensive. It will be funded by a contribution of three per cent of an employee's salary, shared equally between employers and employees. The Government's commitment will include a one-off injection of $10 billion to kick-start the scheme, $3.6 billion of security benefits it is already paying the elderly, and $1.2 billion as the employer of civil servants. But opponents fear the contribution rate could rise substantially as pensioners increase while those contributing are likely to drop. There are also suggestions that the scheme will result in pensioners getting less in real terms in 60 years from its inception. The Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower, Lam Woon-kwong, has identified the main areas of contention. In the next weeks, he and other branch officials will decide whether the final scheme should remain a universal one benefiting even non-contributors; whether pensioners should get the same amount regardless of the period of contribution; and whether spouses of contributors who die before 65 should be allowed to benefit. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower, Tony Reynalds, said the overwhelming response indicated its importance to the community.