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Hong Kong finance minister shoots down lawmakers’ proposal to seek approval for cash handout separately from police funding in government budget

Hong Kong’s finance minister has shot down a proposal by lawmakers to seek funding approval for the HK$10,000 (US$1,283) cash handout separately from other issues in the government budget, such as a plan to boost police funding.

At a Legislative Council Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, Paul Chan Mo-po rejected calls from two major political parties to pull the handout scheme from the appropriation bill, which contains funding applications for all measures announced in the budget a day earlier.

Both the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and the pro-democracy Civic Party said such a move would help the government deliver the handout sooner. The latter also said the handout should not be lumped with increased police funding in the appropriation bill.

Chan’s latest budget revealed a 24.7 per cent increase in expenditure for police to HK$25.8 billion, drawing criticism from the pro-democracy camp.

The 30,000-strong police force is to get a headcount boost of more than 2,500, up by 7 per cent.

On Thursday, Chan said he would not consider the proposal, saying: “It is not possible to speed up the preparation work for the handout scheme even if Legco gave it a faster approval.”

He said it would take time for the government to liaise with banks to set up the administrative and technological framework for distributing the cash.

The goal is to start distributing the handout during the summer holidays, he added.

During the two-hour session, pan-democrats said the government had bundled the handout with the increased budget for police, with some describing the payout as “hush money” for poor governance.

Council Front lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick pointed out the plan to increase police headcount by 2,500 would account for about 40 per cent of all new civil servant posts in the coming financial year.

“Are you transforming Hong Kong further into a police state?” Chu said.

Chu also criticised Chan as a “coward” for burying the police funding only in the appendix, and not mentioning it in his budget speech.

Summarising their experience, [police] think they need to replenish their manpower and equipment. I think it is reasonable

Paul Chan, financial secretary

Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said the government was trying to redeem itself by giving the handout.

“The money is from the public and not the government,” he said.

“You can’t expiate your sins, as misgovernance has caused a serious viral outbreak.”

DAB lawmaker Elisabeth Quat Pui-fan criticised pan-democrats for putting politics before livelihood issues.

“They said they would oppose all relief measures and the handout if police were given more resources. That’s ridiculous,” she said, adding many residents were in need of cash.

The finance minister refused to go into details of police funding, saying security officials would give further explanation in a later meeting.

“The handout scheme is not related to resources for police,” Chan said.

He said the adjustments were made after considering requests from police for more resources, in light of the months-long anti-government protests since last June that involved violent clashes between officers and protesters.

“Summarising their experience, [police] think they need to replenish their manpower and equipment. I think it is reasonable,” Chan said.


Category: Hong Kong

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