Financial Secretary Paul Chan came under fire from radio listeners on Thursday who questioned why the government is paying HK$10,000 to people who have emigrated overseas under the cash handout plan announced in his latest budget
Appearing on RTHK's phone-in programme on the budget proposals, Chan said permanent Hong Kong residents who have moved elsewhere won’t even have to come back to the SAR to get the HK$10,000.
They can simply register for the handout online, the financial secretary said.
A number of callers questioned whether it is unfair that people who have emigrated can also get the money.
"Why don't you set restrictions to only give money to those who have been living here for not less than 8 months in the past year? I think this restriction is very simple, and can leave out hundreds of thousands of people, and can save a lot of money,” one caller asked Chan.
Chan said figures from the Immigration Department show there are close to 7 million Hong Kong permanent residents. He said while the department knows how many people have left the city; it doesn’t know why they have left.
He said the administrative procedures to screen out some people would be complicated.
“Some people left to study overseas, some have moved to live at a cheaper place,” he said.
“It’s doable, if I wanted to impose restrictions on who can get the money, but it wouldn't be easy. It would take a long time. I wouldn’t be able to give residents the money quickly,” said the finance chief.
He said such a move would also impact on the government’s plan to boost spending and revive the economy.
He added that the government would discuss with the business sector on the possible introduction of promotional events to attract Hong Kong residents who have emigrated to come back and spend.
Another woman, who said she had recently moved to Hong Kong from the mainland, accused the Financial Secretary of discriminating against people like her.
"I think the secretary's budget has elements of discrimination against new immigrants. We don't get the money just because we are not permanent residents," she said.
"But do you understand we leave home every morning before 5 to go to work and return home at 7 in the evening? We work so hard everyday to serve Hong Kong: why do we not get any benefits?" she asked.
The Financial Secretary denied that the cash handout is discriminatory.
He said if everyone who lives and works in Hong Kong was entitled to the HK$10,000, then foreign domestic helpers and foreign students studying here would also benefit, and this he said may not be a suitable arrangement.
One caller criticised the financial secretary for not learning from the experience of 2011 when his predecessor, John Tsang, was also criticised for giving a HK$6,000 handout to people who no longer live in Hong Kong. He urged the secretary to amend his plan.