Former Hong Kong minister wanted budget to include HK$3,000 ‘red packets’ for all
Raymond Tam says he proposed cash handouts for every adult permanent resident during consultation meeting with NPC deputies
A former Hong Kong minister revealed on Monday that he had made a rare appeal to the government to give cash handouts to all in the latest budget, which has been criticised for allocating more sweeteners to the middle class.
Speaking to the Post in Beijing, Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, now a deputy in China’s legislature – the National People’s Congress – said he had proposed to the administration to give HK$3,000 each to adult permanent residents, and he was “a bit disappointed” that the suggestion had not been accepted.
“I absolutely support cash handouts to all … simplicity is beauty,” said Tam, who was a career civil servant before becoming the city’s secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs.
Tam said he believed his proposal was the fairest way to benefit all citizens and would make everyone happy.
With the city posting a record surplus of HK$138 billion (US$17.6 billion), Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po last month announced in his annual budget a combination of salary and profits tax rebates and increased old age and disability allowances for at least two million Hongkongers.
But he was accused of distributing the sweeteners unevenly, with more than 80 per cent of the HK$50 billion (US$6.4 billion) spending package going to the middle class and less to those who neither paid taxes nor received allowances.
“As the government had a sizeable windfall, I think it could afford to be a bit more generous this time,” Tam said, revealing that he had suggested that Chan distribute HK$3,000 to every citizen above 18 during a consultation meeting with all NPC deputies before the budget was announced on February 28.
Under his proposal, Tam said, only HK$18 billion, less than 10 per cent of the surplus, would be spent on handouts, allowing plenty of room for the government to use the rest for investments.
In 2011, then finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah eventually bowed to pressure and dished out HK$6,000 to all permanent residents after his budget was panned. Tam, then director of the Chief Executive’s Office, recalled how the general public was happy about the news.
“The reaction was very good. Some young couples went for a short trip in Asia,” he said. “And think about an elderly [cardboard collector] … how much paper one does one have to collect for HK$6,000?”
Tam said that small cash handouts this year could be regarded as a “red packet” for all as well, considering the budget was announced around the Lunar New Year.
Executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee proposed handing out HK$3,000 each to permanent residents aged 18 and above who “pay no tax and have no properties”. The Democratic Party called on Chan to hand out HK$6,000 in allowances to all citizens but include tax breaks in the calculations.
Despite of his slight disappointment at the budget, Tam said governance under Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was “much better” than under her predecessor – also his former boss – Leung Chun-ying, “in terms of getting things done and the general atmosphere”.
Tam believed the easing of “anti-government” sentiment was one of the reasons the pro-establishment camp scored its first by-election win for a geographical seat last Sunday.
“The underlying current is changing. The public is fed up with the chaotic situation in the Legislative Council,” Tam said. “They would like [lawmakers] to get back on track and to really counterbalance what the government would propose through rational debate.”
Kimmy Chung is reporting from Beijing