The chance of resuming visitor traffic on a meaningful scale in the last quarter seems remote. This prospect is putting pressure on the current stage of economic recovery. The SAR Government should stay on top of the situation and introduce support measures as and when needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has no sign of slowing and there have been significant fluctuations in confirmed cases. While the third wave of outbreaks in Hong Kong has eased at the time of writing, we remain vigilant against rebound in autumn and winter. The situation overseas is even more worrying. The pandemic has claimed over one million lives worldwide and clocked more than 33 million confirmed cases. Notably, conditions are deteriorating sharply in Europe, while numbers in the US and emerging countries like India and Brazil show cause for concern. The disease has serious and ongoing impacts on health and economies. The global vaccine race is now in its last lap. However, no-one knows when safe vaccines will be released to curb the spread of COVID-19. World Health Organization has warned that the death toll may reach two million if countries around the world fail to work together to check the spread of the virus.
To win the long war against COVID-19, all nations must work in unity on both internal and external fronts. To preserve Hong Kong’s resilience and to help hard-hit SMEs and the community to tide over this winter crisis, the LegCo Finance Committee approved the funding application for the third round of Anti-epidemic Fund with support from the pro-establishment camp in late September.
The opposition “opposed” appropriating funds for epidemic relief
Described as a “life-saver” by the media, this new funding is undoubtedly desperately needed to help SMEs and the community in dire straits. Regrettably, opposition legislators put politics first as always and filibustered to prevent passage even though it was an urgent livelihood issue. To start with, they teamed up to disrupt order by pestering the Chief Secretary with the case of 12 Hong Kong citizens being detained on the mainland for allegedly fleeing Hong Kong by boat. The matter had nothing to do with the funding whatsoever and precious time was wasted during that council session. When the Finance Committee was forced to extend the meeting to discuss funding, the opposition motioned that the debate be adjourned in an attempt to further filibuster to prevent passage.
It should be noted that the funding application of HKD16.1 billion debated on that day included an injection of HKD5.4 billion to the Anti-epidemic Fund which would provide further assistance to industries and members of the public who are seriously affected by the epidemic. It also included earmarking over HKD8.4 billion to procure and provide COVID-19 vaccines, as well as a supplementary provision of more than HKD2 billion to support the Hospital Authority’s fight against the next wave of outbreaks. Another appropriation of over HKD100 million was also applied to offer food assistance to grassroots families, and to provide finance for extending a special unemployment aid scheme under CSSA for six months to 31 May 2021.
Funding passed by the pro-establishment camp
What caused public outrage was that the entire opposition voted against these urgently needed livelihood funding. Even the two “Laam Caau” legislators ― having said they would boycott the council by refusing the one-year extended term of office because they disapproved of the government’s decision to postpone the LegCo general election for the sake of public health during the epidemic ― did not miss the chance to put on a show two days before stepping down. They voted against the bill, in total disregard of public interest. Funding was eventually approved with support from pro-establishment legislators who voted unanimously in favor of the bill.
We cannot deny that anti-epidemic measures launched by the government to date have room for improvement. For example, efforts should be made to aid SMEs quickly and on target, and the application and approval process for providing financial assistance to SMEs should be simplified. Also, the government should also make earnest effort to stimulate Hong Kong’s economy by encouraging domestic consumption. As a matter of fact, pro-establishment lawmakers have made many recommendations for enhancement. Nevertheless, we will not give up eating for fear of hiccups; nor shall we allow those with ulterior motives to play on this story. Disregarding people’s livelihood at this extraordinary time, they are delaying support measures for SMEs and the community at large. They are politicizing the issue to undermine the credibility of the government.
Mulling more appropriate measures
By the looks of things, it is hard for Hong Kong’s economy to recover in the remaining months of the year. We can soon roll out a mutual recognition system for health codes of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao to facilitate personnel and economic exchanges, or even bring about regional “travel bubble”, “sports bubble” and “business bubble”. Yet, with a highly unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic, any such measures have to be piloted carefully or implemented on a restricted basis.
The Financial Secretary indicated recently that there was a slim chance of resuming visitor traffic on a meaningful scale in the last quarter. This is weakening the current stage of economic recovery. Many companies, both big and small, have expressed serious pressure for staff redundancy and cost cutting. Unemployment is set to rise further from the current 6.1%, and hard-hit sectors with highly unstable business activities, such as the travel and tourism industry and airlines, are still not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The SAR Government must keep a close watch on the latest situation and respond with adequate and timely support measures.
Looking ahead, political standoffs in LegCo will only worsen in the coming year. The opposition will definitely make a stronger stand. There is little hope that they will turn around and fight COVID-19 with us together. Nevertheless, as a pro-establishment legislator, I will play my monitoring role to ensure the government roll out appropriate and timely anti-epidemic and support measures. I will also join hands with other pan-establishment forces to protect Hong Kong and win the battle against COVID-19.
This is a free translation. For the exact meaning of the article, please refer to the Chinese version.
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