Hong Kong's finance minister has defended eligibility rules for a HK$10,000 cash handout he announced on Wednesday, as residents criticised the exclusion of new immigrants while Hongkongers who have left the city stand to benefit.
Under the measure, part of Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po's HK$120 billion (US$15 billion) relief package, each adult permanent resident will be given HK$10,000. Chan called the giveaway " with a total cost of HK$71.1 billion " an "exceptional measure taken in the light of the current unique circumstances".
Although parties across the political spectrum had previously called for the measure, some residents were unhappy about the eligibility rules. On Thursday, a few of them called a radio show Chan appeared on, to air complaints and grievances.
"I wake up at 5am every day and come back home at 7pm. I work very hard serving Hong Kong," one female caller, a recent immigrant, said. "Why do we get no benefits at all? I want to ask the minister: does the government discriminate against new immigrants?"
Chan replied that if the government included everyone living in Hong Kong, then domestic helpers, foreign students and short-term workers would be "inappropriately" included. And if permanent residents were included along with specified other groups, he said, the government might face legal challenges.
"I have asked the Community Fund to consider rolling out measures assisting new immigrants," Chan said, adding that the government cares about everyone in society.
Two other callers believed Hong Kong residents who have emigrated should be excluded from the handout, to save money.
"The handout is unfair. Why don't you set criteria and only those who lived in Hong Kong for more than eight months of last year are entitled to the HK$10,000?" one of the two callers said.
Chan said officials wanted to speed up distribution.
"According to the Immigration Department, there are about 6.9 million permanent residents. They know who has left the city but don't know their (travelling) purposes," Chan said, adding that some had left for study, working holiday or to settle abroad.
"We can get it done by setting some conditions … but the whole process would be longer and more complicated," Chan said. "The longer administration process would prolong the time for money to reach the hands of the public, which would affect our goal of stimulating the economy."
Under the scheme, Chan said, overseas Hong Kong residents may apply for the handout online, and are not required to come back to the city to get the money.
That was different from a similar scheme in 2011, which gave residents HK$6,000 each, when e-applications were unavailable.
Chan said applicants were expected to receive the money from August onwards.
The one-off sweetener has forced the city into a deficit of HK$139.1 billion for the 2020/21 financial year, according to the government's estimate.
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