A member of the chief executive’s cabinet and legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee joined the chorus of opposition lawmakers on Monday when she warned her party might vote against the budget if the government remained resistant to giving cash handouts to Hongkongers.
Ip, who has to vote in favour of the government as she is an executive councillor, said she would not “rule out the possibility” that her New People’s Party colleague in the Legislative Council, Eunice Yung Hoi-yan, might veto the financial blueprint if there were no improvements made to it.
“Even if the budget is passed, it is going to be passed with a low number of supporting votes … which would affect the popularity rating of the government,” she said.
Since finance chief Paul Chan Mo-po announced Hong Kong’s record surplus of HK$138 billion (US$17.7 billion) last Wednesday and dished out massive tax breaks and higher old age and disability allowances for at least two million Hongkongers, he has been under mounting pressure from politicians across the spectrum to top up the giveaways with cash handouts.
They accused his budget of favouring the rich and spending too little on the poor – though some political analysts suggested that lobbying for cash was a populist move by parties ahead of this Sunday’s Legislative Council by-election.
The government showed they had heard calls to broaden the pool of beneficiaries, when Chan and Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong separately announced that certain groups who did not get any budget giveaways might get goodies from a care fund.
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Chan on Saturday added that the proposed special allowance by the Community Care Fund for the so-called “N-nothings” could be expanded to include low-income retirees below the age of 65 who were not on social assistance, and young people who had just entered the workforce and paid little or no tax.
“N-nothings” has traditionally been used to describe people who do not receive subsidised housing or welfare assistance but do not earn enough to buy a home or benefit from tax breaks.
But Ip was unimpressed on a radio programme on Monday and when she spoke to reporters afterwards.
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“Clearly a large number of people have been left out in the sharing effort and the government should plug the loopholes without requiring people to apply as though they were [living] below the poverty line asking for handouts,” Ip said.
It was “wrong in principle” for the government to use the Community Care Fund – set up to help people in economic difficulties – for those left out of the budget. It was “humiliating” for recipients, she added.
She repeated her call for the government to dole out HK$3,000 in cash to those who do not pay tax and get no tax rebates, and consult the Executive Council again.
Ip earlier denied that she was pressing for handouts as her party colleague Judy Chan Ka-pui was contesting the Hong Kong Island seat on March 11 against three candidates, including pan-democrat Au Nok-hin.
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The city’s largest opposition party also threatened to veto the budget, unless the government gave cash to more than a million people who had been left out in the cold, veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said.
In another bid to soothe the backlash, welfare chief Law on Monday revealed that housewives and stay-at-home husbands, who he said had made contributions to society, might also be among the recipients of the special allowance.
He also said he was pondering a plan to replace old electronic appliances with energy-efficient ones for people living in subdivided flats to lower their electricity costs.
The embattled Chan reiterated he would not bow to political pressure by offering universal cash handouts, and he expected that giveaways from the fund would total below HK$10 billion.