Hong Kong is really a strange city to live in – again, the government announced a huge budget surplus. The budget surplus of HK$3.5 billion forecast last year turned into a surplus of HK$65 billion.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah announced that relief measures, amounting to HK$33 billion, should help ease the pressure on middle-class, grass-roots and small and medium-sized businesses.
But is this really true? It seems that only taxpayers and property owners will be granted another package of relief measures – and that the poorest of the poor will miss out again. Yes of course, the handouts this year will be smaller than last year’s, as the government hopes to reserve more resources to help low-income people, but is this really going to happen?
What was promised yesterday? Reduced property rates, reduced salaries tax by 75 per cent, subject to a ceiling of HK$10,000. In addition, there will be another year of electricity subsidy of HK$1,800.
For pupils there will be extra funding for vocational training schemes and HK$20 million each into the Government Scholarship Fund and Self-financing Post-secondary Education Fund to award scholarships to 100 outstanding tertiary students with special education needs every year.
An additional HK$15 billion is proposed to add to the Community Care Fund – and yes, there are measures to help the old and disabled. But unfortunately, that’s only one extra month of allowances of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, Old Age Allowance, Old Age Living Allowance and Disability Allowance recipients.
Public housing tenants will receive two months’ rent and there is some budget to enhance short-term food assistance services.
There are some good steps in the relief measures, but unfortunately there are no universal retirement protection scheme, no plans to ease the housing issue, no subsidies for low-income people in private housing and no direct measures to benefit children of parents that don’t pay taxes (because of low income or even no jobs). What a shame, another year, another lost opportunity.