Means testing runs counter to the spirit of retirement protection

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 5:03pm

I believe the government has made a fundamental error by introducing means testing to a retirement protection scheme for Hong Kong (“Lose-lose situation on Hong Kong pension options: face much higher taxes or force elderly means-testing”, December 23).

When considering the merits of any scheme, one must not lose sight of the fundamental principle that it is the moral duty of a civilised society to repay those who have contributed to society – by providing a livelihood of a reasonable standard during retirement. Other policy objectives, however sound and justified on their own, must yield to this principle of reciprocity.

Given these imperatives, certain oft-cited arguments for a means-tested scheme will lose their validity. Among them is the suggestion that any scheme that adds burden to the fiscal budget must not be adopted for the sake of financial sustainability. While it is true that the financial aspect of any proposed scheme must be carefully scrutinised so that it may be sustainable, it does not follow that only fiscally neutral schemes are acceptable.

Quite the contrary, it is perfectly conceivable that a welfare scheme as extensive as retirement protection would carry serious financial implications. The solution, however, is not writing off any costly schemes outright.

Rather, the government should contemplate the bona fide meaning of a reasonable livelihood and consider how to best provide one for our retirees and still make ends meet – just like what it is supposed to do in relation to education and medical service.

Another common argument against a scheme that is open to all is that it would unfairly burden the younger generations – by forcing them to provide for retirees who are not their parents and who are not sufficiently well-off to support themselves. This notion is not only repugnant but also runs contrary to the overriding principle of retirement schemes.

Will a non-discriminatory scheme impose on the finances of our young? Maybe. But is such an imposition undue? Definitely not!

If a retirement scheme is premised upon reciprocity, all retirees should be treated equally and the least we can do as a society is to pay due concern and respect to them through a non-discriminatory retirement scheme.

To conclude, I want to quote the Jewish leader Hillel, who said some 2,000 years ago: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”

I sincerely urge Hong Kong people to take retirees’ dignity seriously.

Donald Mak, Wan Chai