Concern for livelihood matters Tide over the difficulties
18 August 2019
Facing a grim economic situation, the Government has revised downwards its 2019 full-year real growth forecast for Hong Kong to 0 per cent to 1 per cent. The situation is indeed worrying.
The retail and service industries were the first to bear the brunt of the economic downturn. The total value of retail sales recorded a year-on-year decrease of 1.4% in May and further fell by 6.7% in June this year. For the tourism industry, a rapid reversal was observed. Despite positive growth in the first half of the year, the number of inbound tourists started to slump in July and an alarming negative growth of 31% was recorded in early August. Many employees of the tourism and related industries, such as tour guides and coach drivers, have suffered a heavy blow to their livelihoods. Some of them have not been able to get any jobs since early this month and can hardly make ends meet.
In the face of such hardships, the Government is duty bound to support the local small and medium enterprises and safeguard the jobs of employees. Last Thursday, we resolutely announced a package of measures costing $19.1 billion to "support enterprises, safeguard jobs and relieve people's burden". These measures aim to support small and medium enterprises in withstanding the current economic fluctuations, safeguard employment and relieve the financial burden of the people.
Support enterprises and safeguard jobs
SMEs account for over 98% of the total number of business units in Hong Kong and provide job opportunities for about 1.3 million people, i.e. over 40% of total employment (excluding the civil service). They are indeed the pillar of our economy. To enhance their ability to weather the storm, the Government will waive 27 groups of government fees and charges (e.g. licence fees, registration fees and passenger service licence fees) for 12 months to benefit a wide range of sectors from retail, catering, tourism, maritime, logistics, agriculture and fisheries to construction, involving an expenditure of over $1.56 billion.
We will also reduce the rental for short-term tenancies of government land for community and business use, market stalls and government wholesale market stalls, catering establishments and retail stores, as well as leased public cargo working areas by 50% for six months, involving over $270 million. Besides, the application period of the special concessionary measures under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme will be extended to the end of June 2022 in order to ease the cash flow of SMEs during this difficult time.
In addition, more minor works projects will be implemented to create more employment opportunities for the construction sector. The Employees Retraining Board will provide specific training programmes for unemployed/under-employed workers in trades suffering from the economic downturn to enhance their skills and competitiveness.
Relieve people's burden
As the chairperson of the Commission on Poverty, I am particularly concerned about the pressure of daily living faced by people at the grassroots level in such times of economic adversity. Therefore, I have attached more importance to the measures to relieve people's burden, which cost over $13.3 billion. We will provide recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), Old Age Allowance, Old Age Living Allowance and Disability Allowance with an extra allowance which is equal to one month's payment. This measure will also apply to recipients of the Working Family Allowance and the individual-based Work Incentive Transport Subsidy. At the same time, we will pay one month's rent for lower income tenants living in the public rental units of the Hong Kong Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society.
On pro-family measures, we will provide kindergarten, primary and secondary day-school students in the 2019/20 school year with a subsidy of $2,500 each to alleviate the financial burden of education expenses on their parents. This will cost about $2.3 billion and benefit over 900 000 students. We will also provide a one-off electricity charge subsidy of $2,000 for each of the 2.7 million eligible residential electricity accounts.
We also care about the "N have-nots" (i.e. low-income households not living in public housing and not receiving CSSA) and will invite the Community Care Fund to consider providing them with a one-off subsidy.
On measures to ease the burden of taxpayers, the Government will increase the reductions of salaries tax, tax under personal assessment and profits tax for the Year of Assessment 2018/19 to 100% while retaining the ceiling of $20,000. About 1.43 million taxpayers will benefit from a further saving of $1.84 billion.
I am happy to see that other organisations, including the Hong Kong Housing Authority, Airport Authority Hong Kong, Construction Industry Council, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation as well as the Cyberport, are also actively formulating relief proposals in order to ride against the storm of economic downturn and tide over difficult times with all the Hong Kong people.
The measures to "support enterprises, safeguard jobs and relieve people's burden" are targeted measures involving various social strata and sectors. They can exert a timely mitigating effect on the current weak local economy. It goes without saying that Hong Kong is facing both internal and external challenges. While externally the United States-China trade conflicts are escalating, internally the non-co-operation campaign and the violence and vandalism originating from public demonstrations and processions have continued for over two months. These actions have seriously affected the daily lives of citizens, disrupted social order, undermined the rule of law in Hong Kong and challenged the moral bottom line, as well as severely tarnished Hong Kong's international image.
While some have claimed that the extreme acts were committed to strive for a better future for Hong Kong, such actions are in fact not the kind of behaviour that reflects love for Hong Kong. If they truly love Hong Kong and care about its development, they will not exercise their right to freedom of expression at the expense of the peace of society and the livelihood, lives and properties of innocent citizens, not to say destroy the social, economic and livelihood infrastructure that we have painstakingly built and protected for many years.
To destroy is easy. To build is difficult. In order to solve the prevailing problems in Hong Kong, all violent acts must stop immediately. Every sector of the community must set aside prejudice and hatred in favour of the long-term interests of Hong Kong, cherish Hong Kong's achievements over the years, and ensure that "one country, two systems" can continue to be implemented successfully. Only then shall our society have a chance to return to rationality, recover step by step and regain momentum.