Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - Page 1 News List

HK’s leader vows to tackle poverty, avoids talk of polls

LACK OF SUBSTANCE:The chief executive laid out programs to help the working poor and increase housing, but said little about direct elections

AFP, HONG KONG

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying holds up printed versions of his 2014 policy address during a press conference yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Hong Kong’s leader yesterday announced plans to tackle rising poverty in a policy speech that largely skirted the burning issue of universal suffrage for the Chinese territory amid growing public discontent with his administration.

There is considerable anger in Hong Kong about rising inequality, a lack of action on granting citizens full voting rights and resentment over Beijing’s perceived influence in the territory.

In his second policy address, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) announced a raft of welfare policies including a scheme to help the working poor.

“The current-term government is determined to tackle the poverty problem,” Leung said.

“This ... will incur a substantial amount of additional recurrent expenditure. It demonstrates the determination of the current-term government to tackle the root of the entrenched problems in our society,” he said.

However, Leung gave little detail on how the territory’s future leaders will be chosen under a long-awaited political reform other than to state that Hong Kong was “moving towards universal suffrage.”

The government opened a long-awaited public consultation last month on ways to elect the territory’s future leader, amid growing fears increased intervention by China will prevent genuine political reform.

Under a HK$3 billion (US$390 million) a year scheme announced yesterday about 700,000 people from low-income families will receive extra subsidies. Working families with incomes equal or below half the territory’s median monthly domestic household income will be eligible for an allowance of up to HK$1,000 a month.

The scheme, which the government plans to implement next year, will also provide an additional monthly allowance of HK$800 for each child.

Leung said the government would do its “utmost” to increase housing supply and set a target to provide 470,000 units in the coming decade with public housing accounting for 60 percent.

Analysts said the welfare policies could help lift his flagging approval ratings, which stand at 45.6 percent, according to survey by the Hong Kong University.

“By giving out different kinds of subsidies to the lower classes, I think it would be an expedient method of rescuing his popularity,” Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of Government & Public Administration professor Ma Ngok (馬嶽) said.

However, throughout the address, political reform, a topic which sparks regular mass street demonstrations, was only briefly touched upon.

“At this moment, he doesn’t have a lot of concrete things to offer,” Ma said.

Dozens of people staged a protest outside the Legislative Council before Leung delivered his speech, some holding pictures of a turtle shell and Leung’s picture, shouting “Don’t hide like a turtle, Leung.” His two-hour speech was interrupted twice by radical lawmakers who called him a liar before they were escorted out of the council chamber.

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