Growing Up


The immaturity of some of our politicians shows no signs of abating, as is evident from their responses to the 2014 Policy Address delivered last week by our Chief Executive.

In his first address a year ago, Leung Chun Ying concentrated on the housing situation which on any sensible analysis is the most serious problem facing Hong Kong. We have some of the highest prices on the planet, alongside some appalling living conditions that would shame a third world country.

This time he gave an update on the various plans to address the issue and the prognosis is reasonable: it will take time because after a decade of neglect it was bound to. But after a massive behind the scenes planning effort the pieces are in place, the bulk of the land has been found, we are on our way to a solution.

The main thrust of the 2014 Address could therefore focus on our next most serious problem: the shocking findings on poverty revealed a few months ago by the Commission on Poverty, a body resurrected by Leung in one of the earliest decisions of his term, after being disbanded by the previous regime.

We have the first ever official poverty line in Hong Kong's history, and a whole raft of poverty alleviation measures to bring help to those most in need. These will provide real practical assistance and make a special effort to support in particular the working poor. This is not a welfare state, it is a helping hand reaching down to pull up those trying to help themselves.

Other sections of the Address outline good pragmatic measures in the fields of elderly care, education, the environment and economic development.

What has been the response of our politicians to this workmanlike manifesto? ‘There's nothing for the middle class' says chairman of the self-styled Voice of the Middle Class Alvin Lee Chi Wing. There was immediate support for this view from the Business and Professionals Alliance, who also shed a tear for small and medium enterprises. Other politicos have since joined the chorus.

Look again everyone, the Policy Address is full of good things for the middle class. First of all, pace George H W Bush "No New taxes". All the things being proposed can be comfortably financed without upsetting our basic low tax environment. If you think that is not a big plus, talk to your middle class friends in Europe or other advanced economies and see how they're doing.

Secondly, developing our economy and maintaining our pro business operating environment bring most benefit to those best able to take advantage of them, viz the very businesses and professionals now complaining.

Thirdly, for those fortunate enough to be in the middle income group, the priority outside the economy relates to quality of life issues, the physical environment, the arts and culture scene, sports etc. Progress is being made in all these areas.

But there is a more fundamental reason why the middle class and those claiming to speak on their behalf should applaud the Policy Address rather than criticise it. The reason we pay taxes is so that the government can do good things with our money.

What was proposed last week is a list of very good things, in some cases very urgently needed.

Given that the threshold is set so high – less than 50 per cent of working people have to pay any salaries tax at all, and those that do enjoy the absolute ceiling figure of 15 per cent – taxpayers are by definition among the better off in our community.

I can think of two main reasons why a sensible and reasonable Policy Address is being attacked.

Some people just don't like Leung as a person. We live in a free society and they are entitled to their view.

Others object to his policies in other areas, in particular political reform. I am with the objectors on this one and have serious doubts about what is going to emerge when the consultation period ends.

But neither of these is sufficient reason to launch volleys of attacks on the proposals to help the poor because they don't also help the better off. It's an immature response.

Thinking of the government doing good works with my tax dollars gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. Or maybe that's just the zero tax wine….

 
Mike Rowse
email: mike@rowse.com.hk