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Hong Kong: A Governance Crisis Money Can't Solve

The 2011-2012 Hong Kong budgetary plan, released by Financial Secretary John Tsang on 23 February, 2011, has triggered strong political reactions in the territory.

On the night of Sunday March 6, 2011, 113 young demonstrators were arrested at a rally of more than 10,000 people demanding greater social justice in the formulation of government policy.

Vartist, a social movement documentary group, recorded the arrest scene at which police officers used pepper spray without warning:

Problems Loom Behind Blooming Economy

Hong Kong at dusk. Image by Flickr user Stuck in Customs (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Hong Kong at dusk. Image by Flickr user Stuck in Customs (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Despite the recent global financial crisis, Hong Kong's economy has bloomed in the past two years. In 2010 the territory's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) grew by 6.8%.

However, according to the United Nations Development Report 2009, Hong Kong ranked top in income inequality and the city has also become the world's most expensive for housing, 55% more expensive than London.

The 2010-2011 budget's planned proposal to inject 6,000 Hong Kong dollars (HKD) (US dollars 750) into citizens’ Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) accounts was met with discontent.

The plan was criticised as failing to address the immediate alleviation of poverty in the face of serious inflation problems caused by the devaluation of the Hong Kong dollar.

MPF accounts are run by private investment funds, but individuals are forced by law to deposit 5% of their salary in them for their retirement. People have little control over whether these private funds lose money in investments made, not to mention over the high management fees.

A cash handout of the sum was not initially offered because of fears it would worsen inflation but the Financial Secretary recently made an unexpected U-turn on this to defuse people's anger over the issue. Yet the core problem of structural injustice remains unsolved.

Calls for Mobilization

A glimpse of the discontent can be seen in the various calls for mobilization for the March 6, 2011, rally on social networking site Facebook.

Hong Kong Needs a Brighter Future [zh] is an event created by a social worker organization:

注資強積金,固然明益基金公司,人人喊打;但公帑亂派,卻引出了更可怕的事實:特區政府為求擺脫政治困窘,不惜將盈餘派光,儼如親自宣告放棄有效管治。

可以預期,以後年復一年,政府派的只會更多更狠。然後,超過三分一的長者繼續捱窮,安老和殘疾院舍繼續長期輪候,醫院繼續迫爆,身患惡疾的窮人和中產繼續有藥冇錢醫,香港產業繼續空洞化,投機炒賣繼續將經濟泡沫越吹越大,窮人繼續看不到明天……

People are opposed to the [cash] injection into the MPF [Mandatory Provident Fund] because this policy would only favor private investment foundations. However, the cash handout will create a more terrible situation: in order to save itself from political crisis, the government has spent all its surplus. It is a declaration of ineffective governance.

We can expect in the future, that the government will tackle political crises with more cash handouts, while one third of the elderly will continue to live in poverty without proper care and public hospitals also continue to be packed. Poor people and even the middle classes do not have enough money for health care. The local economy will continue to be dominated by speculation, there is no future for the poor…

Bauhinia Revolution, Overthrow the Corrupt Government [zh] is another event call created by netizens:

相對係一個咁富裕既城巿,點解仲有咁多人冇飯食要訓街,要汁垃圾維生呢?
而且有十多萬基層人士,住係好似狗住既籠屋或板間房,租金還要1200-1800
大家都要知道現在香港還有一百多萬人生活係貧窮線之下
平均每人每月入息低於$2XXX,貧富相差逾26倍!!
低學歷收入低的人=打死一世牛工過著冇尊嚴冇地位冇身份的日子
可憐的是現今學歷低的靑年人,想進修學費貴又俾唔起,物價高儲錢又儲唔到
他們大多只能搵勞動性工作,工時又長,少進升機會手停口停,前途一片灰暗

As a wealthy city, poor people still have not enough food, live on the streets and make a living from garbage? Moreover, we have more than 100,000 people living in ‘cage homes‘ or small wooden compartments [apartments divided into several rooms, one per family], paying HKD 1,200-1,800 per month for renting these ‘dog houses’. We have more than one million people living below the poverty line with a monthly income less than HKD 2,000 per month. The high and low income gap is 26 times in difference.

[Individuals in] the low income group with poor education background have to work like dogs for their entire lives, without any social respect. The young poor without good education qualifications cannot afford to pay for professional training and because of inflation, they do not have any savings. All they can do is to work for extremely long hours in jobs with no prospect at all. The future is very gloomy.

Rally Against the Budgetary Plan [zh] has been organized by local trade unions:

遊行訴求:
1. 要求政府增撥200億經常性開支以推行醫療, 教育, 環保等長遠短期政策;
2. 爭取全民退休保障制度;
3. 推出穩定樓市措施(包括:增建公屋, 復建居屋);
4. 改善現時的紓困措施。

Protest demands:
1. Allocate 20 billion additional annual budget to public welfare, such as health care, education and environment protection;
2. Set up a universal retirement protection system;
3. Stabilize the property market by building public housing and restoring the Home Ownership Scheme;
4. Improve the current poverty alleviating measures.

Anti-Budgetary Plan Rally [zh] is organized by a political group, the League of Social Democrats (LSD):

鉅富李嘉誠先生可申領六千元,未足十八歲的青年、新移民、外傭等弱勢社群卻被統統拒諸門外——這是哪門子的施政理念?

再者,對於議會,這六千元公帑其實是政府給予建制派議員的賄賂,以公帑為這些投機政客提供廉價的政治資本。

對於公眾,這六千元亦不過是平息民忿的掩口費,希望以這筆本來就屬於巿民的公帑麻醉大眾,減少三月六日各界遊行的反應。

可是,地產霸權、物價高漲、貧富懸殊——全部未解決。

Tycoon Lee Kar Shing would get HKD 6,000 under the current plan, while those who are under 18, new immigrants, foreign domestic workers and social minorities are not included. What kind of political thought is this?

The HKD 6,000 handout is designed to buy off the pro-establishment politicians, giving them political credit and therefore political capital.

The HKD 6,000 handout is an immoral bait for the general public with the political intention to shut them up and cool down the reactions seen at the March 6 [2011] rally.

However, the issues of property market hegemony, inflation and income disparity, all remain unsolved.

Say No to Fake Revolution [zh] is organized by the ‘Post 80s’ activist group (many of them got arrested after the rally):

政府收稅,本是為了有效分配資源,現在卻放棄長遠規劃,只著緊眼前政治利益,發放小甜頭。但我們不是小朋友,不需要糖。以為$6000可以收買人心,你當骨氣是什麼?基層市民真正需要的,是改善生活的長遠政策!如今政府放棄管理規劃,我們還需要它麼?

民主黨,在世界各地都正在進行真正革命的時候,說要搞紫荊花革命。其實,當你支持政改方案、在交通津貼撥款投棄權票的時候,你是否知道革命是什麼?人民是什麼?一個所謂「反對」黨的立場又應該是什麼?

The government collects tax in order to redistribute it as a social resource. Now the government has given up long term planning for instant political effect. Hand out the sweets. However, we are not kids, we do not need sweets. You think you can buy people's hearts with HKD 6,000? You have humiliated us. What the grassroots [people] need are long term policies to improve their lives. Now that the government has given up social planning, what do we need it for?

Democratic Party, when the world is experiencing genuine revolution, you put forward the slogan of the “Bauhinia revolution”. When you supported the government political reform package, and gave up your vote for the transportation subsidies, do you really know the meaning of revolution and people? Do you know your position as an “opposition” party?

“Bauhinia Revolution” is organized by Democratic Party:

6,000元不會蒙蔽理智,面對跛腳鴨政府發表史上最爛、最短視的預算案,除了憤怒不滿,更應發聲怒吼。不管是來自基層還是中產、是否 N無人士,泛民主派呼籲港人明天「食住粒糖去遊行」,迫使政府再次修改預算案,為香港各種問題作出長遠承擔。反預算案革命尚未成功,且讓洋紫荊花香再飄一會。

People's rationality will not be blinded by the HKD 6,000 cash handout. We should express our anger towards this most short-sighted and stupid budgetary plan by the crippled government. The Pan-Democrats urge Hong Kong people from different classes to take the ‘sweets’ [cash handout] on the one hand and keep protesting on the other hand, to force the government to amend the budget plan again and take more responsibility for all sorts of social problems. Our revolution against the budgetary plan has not been successful yet; let that fragment of Bauhinia continue to flow.

The above calls for protest against the budget plan are more organized opinions. Individuals who are not politically conscious of course appreciate the promise of the cash handout. Below are comments from an online forum – discuss hk:

sausau comments:

好開心, 家庭主婦都有, HAHA

I’m happy, housewives are also entitled to the 6,000 sum, haha.

haha jon wonders when he will get the cash:

我都擔心緊行政問題
要幾耐先派到
好多人極要筆錢應付生活

I’m also worried about the administrative problems, how long does it take to get the money?
A lot of people are in desperate need of the money for survival

Who should get the handout and who should not has also become an issue, and the tendency for exclusion has already emerged. For example, Kaitak747 opposes the cash handout because it means taxpayers’ money would be distributed to mainland Chinese coming to Hong Kong to give birth:

其實你盈餘多,肯退稅,基本上已經可以平息好多聲音。你宜家用300幾億每人派6000,你派得一年就好難停。但如果年年甘派落去,只會慢性蠶食香港人固有的奮鬥精神。而且近年每年有幾萬個內地人來港產子,幸好這班生活在內地的港孩還只是小朋友,但如果政府年年甘派落去,到這班小孩滿18歲時,便會年年由內地過關問香港政府要錢,即使他們生活在內地,對香港社會毫無貢獻

If the government has sufficient reserves and carries out the tax rebates, a lot of the angry voices could be pacified. Using 300 billion [HKD] to distribute 6,000 [HKD] to everyone would probably turn it into a long-term policy. This would erode the spirit of hard work. Moreover, there are annually tens of thousands of mainlanders [Chinese] coming to Hong Kong to give birth; if the Hong Kong government continues with the wealth distribution, when these children turn 18 they will approach the government for cash, even though they reside in mainland China without having contributed to Hong Kong society.

Lawrence HKNP cannot hide his anger towards new immigrants:

蝗虫佔醫院, 霸福利, 產虫卵, 毀清潔
我地一定要行出黎, 話俾人知, 香港人討厭新移民佔據福利, 討厭大陸人0既霸道.
反對新移民有得收$6000

The Locusts [synonyms for new immigrants] occupy hospitals, claim social benefits, give birth to many babies and pollute the territory.

We have to stand up and tell the others: Hong Kong people dislike immigrants occupying welfare and dislike them being domineering.

I oppose new immigrants being entitled to the HKD6,000 cash handout!

Post co-authored with Oiwan Lam.

5 comments

  • Joshua

    This is a very interesting read, at university I have a few close friends who lived in Hong Kong, very affluent, who never talk of the colossal unequal distribution of wealth. 2011 seems like a year of revolt, I truly hope that those living in acute poverty in the territory are heard by the powers above and that we begin to see a closing of the gap between the rich and poor. Up the Cantonese.

  • thanks for the comment.
    i can imagine your peers are rich enough to study in the UK.
    i do hope the situation would improve, that’s a continuous battle.
    W

  • […] night, thousands of people attended a sit-in rally blocking traffic in the busy Central district to protest the city’s annual budgetary plan, which activists have said does too little to address problems of income inequality and housing […]

  • […] space, our dignity, our jobs, and they are now even after our tax as well. As this verifying article nicely puts it; “The Locusts occupy hospitals, claim social benefits, give birth to many babies […]

  • […] by Winne Ko, Global Voices, Mar 7, 2011 […]

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