The public consultation about retirement protection has angered many – but the chief secretary helming the exercise said on Wednesday that it was not the government’s job to “please everybody”.
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“My colleague, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Matthew [Cheung Kin-chung], once described our situation as ‘being the bad guy to both sides’. I would say that it’s even worse – we’re ‘the bad guys to all sides’,” said Lam.
The over 100-page consultation document has drawn criticism from the public. At the centre of the debate is the government option of having a means-tested scheme which will benefit just 23 per cent of elderly Hongkongers, or 250,000 out of 1.12 million old people.
The annual expenditure for the option will rise from HK$2.5 billion if it had been implemented last year to HK$6 billion in 2064, when the government’s current population projection ends.
The second option – a universal scheme with all elderly people receiving HK$3,230 a month – would see public expenditure rise from HK$22.6 billion last year to HK$56.3 billion in 2064.
Lam noted that government efforts to create dialogue with people had been limited. Activists yelled and threw things at officials at the two public forums held so far, she said.
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Unions and worker representatives criticised the government for dragging its feet over the Mandatory Provident Fund’s offsetting mechanism, which is also included in the consultation, she added.
Social workers and businesses also criticised the government, Lam said.
But she was firm that the government was trying to strive for the common good: “We are not trained to please everybody. We are not even trained to please anybody. Our mission and task has always been to find a pragmatic balance among competing interests that will serve the greatest common good.”
She stressed that having a universal pension may not “make our society more equitable or the rich-poor gap less glaring”.
The six-month consultation ends on June 21.