How to put those piles of money to good use

The Hong Kong government, which has been wasteful with public funds for years, should invest in universal childcare and help upgrade lifts in old buildings

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 10:10pm

It is a law of human nature that when a government is sitting on piles of money, it will be wasteful and use it unwisely. So it’s inevitable that with its massive reserves, our government has been giving away money for years, with no good purpose, to people and groups that have no need for them.

Just think of the HK$6,000 cash handout for everyone, even the richest people. Or cash subsidies for the electricity bills of every household, even affluent ones.

Or the multi-year rates waivers, which saved our property tycoons and other big landlords hundreds of millions a year. Using the word criminal to describe such handouts may still be metaphorical, rather than literal, but only just.

Using such an atrocious standard of public funding pioneered by former finance secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, a few new plans floated by the government do not sound too bad. One is to subsidise “poor” owners of old private buildings to upgrade their lifts. Another is to compensate bosses for extending the current maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks.

The idea of subsiding lift maintenance comes after one person was killed and two others injured in accidents this year.

How safe are Hong Kong's lifts?

Kuok Hoi-sang, a member of the government’s Lift and Escalator Safety Advisory Committee, said sagely that affluent owners of “higher-end residential buildings” would not be subsidised. So, the idea had crossed committee members’ minds?

But, how do we define poor when even our oldest and most derelict flats usually cost millions in this crazy market?

Of 66,291 lifts in the city, about 80 per cent, or more than 53,000, lack modern safety devices, such as a “rope gripper” that prevents uncontrolled falls and motions. Now, where were our government’s buildings inspectors in those past years? Clearly, something needs to be done. But how about only helping those property owners who can prove financial distress rather than offering a blanket subsidy?

Meanwhile, 14 weeks of maternity leave is the average length of time provided in advanced economies and recommended by the International Labour Organisation. Of course, bosses would have to be dragged kicking and screaming bankruptcy and closure if they have to give female workers an extra month.

Here is a simple solution found in most civilised places: universal childcare. You do want more women to work, to give birth and to counter workplace discrimination against pregnant workers, don’t you?