HK finance minister Paul Chan defends budget amid criticism that it does too little to address health care and housing issues

01-Mar-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s finance chief defended his latest budget on Thursday against criticism from residents who said he had not done enough to help tackle the city’s housing and health care problems.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po rolled out the government’s new budget on Wednesday, with a forecast surplus of HK$58.7 billion (US$7.48 billion) for 2018-19. The blueprint included relief measures such as a reduction in salaries and profits taxes and HK$10 billion earmarked to ensure stable funding for public health care services and for coping with unexpected circumstances.

On a radio phone-in programme on Thursday morning, Chan responded to queries from about 10 residents, many of whom complained he was doing too little for people struggling to pay their rent or to get better health care services.

A caller, surnamed Wong, said: “I earn HK$28,000 (US$3,500) a month and spend half of it on paying rent. Why can’t we deduct the rent we pay from our taxable income [so that we can pay less tax]?”

Wong also urged Chan to offer more subsidised housing for the sandwich class those too wealthy for public housing but who cannot afford to buy private homes.

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The finance minister responded he had “seriously considered” adding rent as a new category under salary tax deductions. Salary tax deductions currently include charitable donations and self-education expenses.

But he feared measures to help families with their rent could backfire.

“If we roll out rent subsidies for families queuing for public housing, it would only benefit their landlords or homeowners. And if we include rents in tax deductions to help the middle class, it would also be unfair to those lower-income families waiting for public housing,” he said.

Chan added that since last year, the government had revamped its housing policy so that 80 per cent of Hong Kong residents were eligible for subsidised flats.

Secretary, you have wasted HK$10 billion to please our medical professionals while their patients sleep in the corridors or toilets of overcrowded public hospitals

Cheung, radio show caller

“The problem is now we don’t have enough subsidised homes … we need to increase supply,” he said, adding that such measures would range from starter-home ownership schemes to transitional housing projects for lower-income families waiting for public homes.

Several other callers were concerned about health care.

One of them, surnamed Cheung, said: “You have wasted HK$10 billion to please our medical professionals while their patients sleep in the corridors or toilets of overcrowded public hospitals. How will you help us as we wait for five to six years for a specialist consultation session?”

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Another caller, surnamed Tam, said: “My father passed away earlier this year after spending more than a year in a public hospital … The service was bad, it was like we were begging for their service. The bill said the government subsidised more than HK$40,000 for my father, but I’d rather spend that subsidy on a private hospital.”

Chan said he would relay these issues to the Food and Health Bureau.

“My brother and I have been treated in public hospitals, so I understand what you mean … We have launched our second 10-year project to redevelop or build new hospitals, but it needs time to bear fruit,” he said.

Apart from the HK$10 billion public health care stabilisation fund, Chan also pledged to provide more than HK$700 million in additional recurrent funding for the Hospital Authority to carry out measures to boost staff morale and retain talent.


Category: Hong Kong

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