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

Sum Lok-kei

Hong Kong’s finance minister has dismissed a proposal by lawmakers to seek 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-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), and the opposition Civic Party, said such a move would help the government deliver the handout sooner. The latter also said the handout should not be grouped with increased police funding in the appropriation bill.

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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.

While the force will record the largest number of new posts across all government departments, it ranks only 14th in percentage growth in expenditure.

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.

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung says the government is trying to redeem itself by giving the handout. Photo: Dickson Lee

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 accused Chan of being a “coward” for burying the police funding only in the appendix of the budget document, and not mentioning it in his 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.”

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DAB lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan accused the opposition of 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 the cash.

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

The finance minister refused to go into details of the police funding, and said 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 that regularly involved violent clashes between protesters and officers.

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

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