Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien has urged the city’s finance chief to distribute HK$8,000 to citizens in the upcoming annual budget, saying the handout would help people get through difficult times amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Roundtable politician met with Financial Secretary Paul Chan on Tuesday to propose 16 policy suggestions related to the 2021-22 Budget, which is set to be rolled out on February 24. Tien said that, in addition to the cash handout, the government should keep the tax refund at 100 per cent like last year, with a cap of HK$20,000.
“The [coronavirus] pandemic in Hong Kong is still ongoing. During this critical moment where various industries are in recession, giving out HK$8,000 in cash and maintaining last year’s tax refund would alleviate hardships of citizens and tackle their urgent needs,” Tien wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
In an interview with RTHK on Wednesday, Tien estimated that the cash handout would cost around HK$600 million.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong recorded 77 confirmed cases of Covid-19, pushing the infection tally close to 9,800. So far, 166 coronavirus patients have passed away in the city.
The lawmaker urged the government to provide a subsidy of HK$2,000 to students from low-income families and give HK$50,000 as a relief fund to medical staff who got infected with Covid-19 while on duty.
The authorities should also look into distributing consumption vouchers after the epidemic and expand the tax base by covering capital gains tax, dividends tax and duty on alcoholic beverages, charged at a progressive rate, he said.
The 2020-21 budget featured a showpiece handout of HK$10,000 which was welcomed by pro-establishment lawmakers. But former legislators of the democratic camp raised doubts about the sweetener, saying it could not tackle “systemic injustice.”
Hong Kong’s finance chief began public consultation work for the new budget last December. Chan said in his blog earlier this month that he heard mixed views about giving out sweeteners, as some voiced concerns over a large fiscal deficit.
He said the rapid increase in the government’s recurrent expenditure in recent years could not be taken lightly. Hong Kong should reserve resources in face of an “uncertain outlook,” Chan advised, citing the Covid-19 outbreak and the China-US tension which threatens investments in the city and its financial market.
“[W]e should remain vigilant, make comprehensive and balanced considerations, and reserve strengths to cope with needs arise from time to time,” Chan wrote.