Li Ka-shing’s remark about increasing tax is a bit rich

It’s hard not to be cynical about the spat between commentator Albert Cheng and the Liberal Party’s James Tien Pei-Chun that was sparked by the tycoon’s comments

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 July, 2016, 12:50am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 July, 2016, 12:50am

It’s always fun to watch the good and the great in local politics slug it out among themselves. The latest round came after tycoon Li Ka-shing suggested Hong Kong should increase corporate tax to ease the widening wealth gap and rising social tensions.

Writing in the Post, Albert Cheng, probably the city’s best-known commentator, described Li’s idea as “noble” and castigated the Liberal Party’s opposition as defending narrow corporate interests and neglecting the poor and grass roots.

The party is among business groups that have come out against Li’s apparently off-the-cuff remark. An angry James Tien Pei-chun, its honorary chair, fought back in the Economic Journal. “The Liberal Party,” Tien wrote, “has been a champion of the underprivileged and the working poor since its founding.”

He just thinks the government’s overflowing coffers can pay for extra social programmes without having to squeeze more out of the private sector.

Of course, Cheng never has a bad word to say about his hero Li; and Tien goes out of his way to pay tributes to “Superman”.

Li Ka-shing calls for higher profits tax rate to tackle Hong Kong wealth gap

“We have the utmost respect for Mr Li,” wrote Tien, “as a great business leader and an extraordinary philanthropist who has been working tirelessly to help the needy.”

Still “noble” is not a word that usually comes to mind when discussing Li and his family business. And it’s entirely new to me that the Liberal Party has been a champion of the poor. But that’s just me.

Our low and efficient tax regime is the least of our worries. Its rather the stranglehold the property oligarchies and business cartels, exemplified by Li’s vast business empire, on the local economy and society – along with a complacent and complicit government – that have been among our biggest problems.

One can hardly expect Li and his friends to admit to the real problems and commit ideological hara-kiri. But he does try to gain some street cred by hinting at being in favour of raising profits tax, which everyone knows won’t happen anyway. Rich men like Li don’t pay much tax anyway with their billions of dollars in tax-free dividends every year – in case you wonder why he is so generous as a philanthropist.

It’s hard not to be cynical about the latest spat between Tien and Cheng and its complete irrelevance.