Hong Kong pro-democracy party League of Social Democrats (LSD) has urged the government to distribute HK$10,000 in cash handouts to residents and voiced opposition for “white elephant” development projects.

league of social democrats
Members of pro-democracy party League of Social Democrats outside the government headquarters in Admiralty on February 14, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Speaking outside the government headquarters on Tuesday, LSD members said the authorities were “ignoring the struggles” of Hong Kong’s poorest, choosing instead to invest in “questionable” large-scale construction plans in the name of commercialisation.

“The government is… using funds to save the economy, but [we] don’t see it saving the people,” said LSD member Dickson Chau.

The group’s petition came ahead of the annual budget speech, which will be delivered next Wednesday and will outline the city’s major spending plans for the coming financial year.

consumption vouchers
A sign at a jewellery store stating that consumption vouchers can be used for purchase. File photo: GovHK.

Authorities have provided handouts every year since 2020 in a bid to ease economic woes brought on by the pandemic. In 2020, Hong Kong residents received HK$10,000 in their bank accounts. Over the past two years, authorities distributed consumption vouchers worth HK$5,000 and HK$10,000, respectively, to online payment accounts in an effort to encourage spending at local businesses.

LSD said it hoped authorities would give another HK$10,000 this year – in cash, not consumption vouchers – so people could use it to pay their bills.

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One of Hong Kong’s last active pro-democracy groups that still holds small-scale petitions, the LSD also urged the government to release activists that have been detained on protest-related charges.

‘Throwing money into the sea’

The LSD’s calls for handouts echoed those of other political parties, including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong.

“Even pro-establishment parties support giving handouts. Paul Chan says it is an extremely large expenditure,“ Chau said, citing the finance chief’s earlier comments about the costliness of such schemes.

Tsang Kin-shing
Tsang Kin-shing, a member of pro-democracy party League of Social Democrats, holds up a prop made to resemble a white elephant on Feb. 14, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

“[Yet] the government is pushing the Northern Metropolis development plan, the price tag of which is not known, and pouring money into the sea with the Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan,” Chau said, referring to what is now called the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project.

Authorities say the two proposals will contribute to the long-term development of the city, but critics have called them expensive endeavours with grave environmental impacts and returns that are far from guaranteed.

“These two large-scale projects could very well cost HK$2 trillion,” Chau added.

Kau Yi Chau
Kau Yi Chau. Photo: Wikicommons.

Earlier this month, green groups slammed a public consultation by the government over the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project, which they said was launched “sneakily” and with no real intention to answer questions on costs or the potential environmental impact. They later boycotted a meeting with government officials to discuss the project.

Separately, the LSD said the government should launch an independent investigation to probe its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, a suggestion first made by health experts and which Chief Executive John Lee has said he disagrees with.

The party also called on authorities to set up an unemployment relief fund to support those who lose their jobs and are forced to take unpaid leave. The government should give recipients a subsidy calculated at 80 percent of their monthly salary with a cap of HK$16,000 for six months, the party proposed.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.