Politicians and public figures from a range of backgrounds take turns to have their say on important matters of the day in this personal view programme.
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Kung Hei Fat Choi! The Year of the Ox marks the beginning of a new year. We all wish for it to be a better and prosperous year, where we finally put an end to the ongoing pandemic.
Earlier, The SAR government had announced that classes would gradually resume after the Chinese New Year holidays, allowing some businesses to reopen after lengthy periods of closure due to social-distancing regulations. I hope this brings a fresh start as we embark on a new year, as some businesses have begun laying off their employees, with some forced to close down since the end of the employment support scheme last November. It’s estimated that the unemployment rate will keep rising.
At the Q&A session in the Legislative Council earlier this month, the Chief Executive said relief measures would be announced in the Budget in three weeks. However, many businesses, especially the SMEs, are already struggling to survive and cannot wait for another three weeks for the announcement, yet they are expected to wait for another two months for implementation? Without immediate action from the Government, many organisations will be forced to close. If it is estimated that the layoffs and closures will occur after the holidays, why did the government not take action sooner? Does the Chief Executive understand the hardship and struggles of the Hong Kong people?
Although the SAR Government did launch several rounds of Anti-epidemic Fund to assist affected industries and implemented various infection control measures, there is still no sign of the virus reaching zero cases anytime soon.
Thus, the government should consider launching another round of Anti-epidemic Fund to help local enterprises over these difficult times. Otherwise, the HK$300 billion spent this year will be in vain. Once businesses close down, many employees are at immediate risk of losing their jobs.
“Supporting enterprises and safeguarding jobs” is no doubt the top priority of the government. The Liberal Party suggests the government should utilize the accumulated surplus of the Exchange Fund to support the community when necessary. As of date, the total asset of the Exchange Fund is more than HK$4.5 trillion, in which HK$800 billion is the accumulated surplus of investment income. The Monetary Authority just announced that they earned HK$198 billion this year and the government can allocate HK$120 billion of this additional surplus to provide immediate relief to support enterprises, safeguard jobs and stimulate the economy. This is more than enough and it will not increase the budget deficit nor affect the monetary and financial stability of Hong Kong. We are now in the battle against the pandemic and recession, so the SAR government should act flexibly to relieve the financial burden from its citizens.
While Financial Secretary Paul Chan will deliver the 2021-22 Budget on 24th February, I suggest using HK$120 billion of the accumulated surplus of the Exchange Fund to launch several measures, including HK$40 billion to roll out a new round of an employment support scheme, HK$12 billion to set up unemployment subsidy capped at HK$7,000 for each unemployed person for six months, and HK$56 billion to give out an electronic shopping voucher of HK$8,000 to each resident to stimulate local consumption.
With only single digit cases recorded for the first time in months last week, this marks a significant reduction in new coronavirus cases in Hong Kong. Experts estimate that the public health situation will improve in six months. Coupled with vaccinations rolling out, normal life can be returned in the foreseeable future. This is why I urge the government to implement another round of employment support scheme to help local businesses get through this hurdle. Enduring the coming half-year will be critical for the survival of many SMEs and the sustainability of the greater economy.
As Vaccination is one of the keys to easing the pandemic, the government will soon roll out the city-wide voluntary vaccination scheme. The Liberal Party earlier suggested that the government should offer incentives to citizens to get their vaccine shots. For example, allowing vaccinated citizens to travel without mandatory quarantine. These so-called vaccine passports can allow citizens to travel to other authorized countries without spending an extended period of time in isolation. Not only will opening up international boarders help satisfy the crave for holidays abroad, but also stimulate our local economy once tourists are free to travel into the city again.
Although the government said it had acquired enough vaccination doses for the entire population, the vaccines are to be available by phrase and for priority groups first, meaning that vaccination for the general public will be provided at a later stage. For those who are desperate for the vaccination, will there be a chance for them to obtain self-paid vaccines? One solution is that the SAR government could discuss with the Central government to do the vaccination in China, where once taken, people can be exempted from quarantine regulations. This will speed up the vaccination process, help to resume the economy, and have our ways of life return much sooner.
Taking this opportunity, I wish you all good health, joy, and peace in the Year of the Ox!