Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …
Karl Lam, 18, German Swiss International School
I believe the Hong Kong government’s HK$10,000 cash handout will help it regain the public’s trust. The payout to all permanent residents aged 18 and over will provide much-needed support to the elderly, low-income families, and employees affected by the recession. It will also increase spending, giving the economy a boost.
It’s been a difficult year for Hongkongers. The city has taken one economic blow after another, starting with the US-China trade war, followed by months of social unrest and now, the coronavirus outbreak. This move by the government shows that it is making big strides to boost morale and restore the public’s faith. At a time when people may be feeling more anxious or isolated than ever, the handout sends a message to people that they are not alone.
This message seems to be getting through. According to a survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, public satisfaction with the latest Hong Kong budget has increased by 23 per cent from last year.
But the gesture is not merely symbolic. Around 7 million Hongkongers are set to benefit from the free cash handout. They will likely spend the cash on goods and services from local businesses, such as shops and restaurants, thereby helping to re-energise the economy.
The government’s economic relief plan also includes assistance for workers in the tourism industry, entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for young people, and a number of other benefits. In other words, the government is getting to the heart of the problem by addressing the needs of those hardest hit by the economic downturn, as well as those whose needs may have been ignored in the past.
While it may have been a long time coming, the government is finally responding to the needs and demands of the public, and we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss or play down their actions.
Iris Lee, 17, Hong Kong International School
Public dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong government has become too intense to be eased by a one-off cash handout. For months, it has failed to properly deal with social unrest and a public health crisis, pushing the city’s most vulnerable groups to breaking point. An empty gesture won’t fix that.
Firstly, the response is too slow: residents won’t receive the handout for around another four months. Although things have been tough, for most people, the worst – such as the crashing of businesses during the anti-government protests – has already passed or will have passed by the summer. As with the withdrawal of the extradition bill three months into the social unrest, this action comes far too late and looks like a last-ditch effort to gain public support.
Secondly, the payout may not have the intended effect of boosting Hong Kong’s economy, as people are more likely to save the money or spend it on daily necessities. Those willing to spend or invest are more likely to be the ones who are already more financially well-off, which constitutes only a small minority of the population.
Thirdly, the payout is much too exclusive. It ignores the 300,000 new migrants and 390,000 domestic helpers who make significant contributions to Hong Kong’s economy and are just as hard-hit as permanent residents. It also benefits around 600,000 residents living outside Hong Kong, who may not be facing the same struggles as those living in the city.
Public dissatisfaction is high, as seen by the medical workers’ strike, the formation of new unions and pro-democracy groups, and leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s extremely low public ratings. The cash handout will not allay political and economic fears if it is inefficient, ineffective, and ignores people who need it the most.