Unjust MPF system
【明報專訊】THE GOVERNMENT has had a bumper revenue harvest this year. Its surpluses total $93.8 billion, and its fiscal reserves exceed $600 billion. People thought it would be easy for John Tsang to prepare the 2011-12 Budget, and he could win peals of applause with suitable relief measures. They little thought the “candies” proposed in it would arouse public resentment. Citizens resent the most John Tsang’s proposal to inject $6,000 into every MPF (mandatory provident fund) account instead of offering taxpayers rebates.
It is generally agreed that the Budget is unpopular. Even if no party or group had called on citizens to join a march on March 6, the administration, sizing up the situation, should soften its stiff stance. John Tsang, who once insisted the Budget could not possibly be changed, has contradicted himself. He has now said he will come up with improvements very soon. That shows the SAR government is not yet as stubborn as a mule, and its officials are still capable of retropection. That is what we should congratulate ourselves for.
Not only should John Tsang put forward improved proposals, but the administration should also find out what lies behind the disturbance. In our view, John Tsang’s refusal to offer taxpayers rebates was only what touched off the eruption of popular anger. Over the past few years, land has been in short supply because of the government’s misguided policy towards the property market. Property prices have run wild, but the SAR government is dead set against reviving the Home Ownership Scheme. Most sandwich class citizens, especially young people, can only lament unaffordable property prices. Few of them can tell when they may be able to live in their own flats. The wealth gap has been widening, and social contradictions intensifying. Popular resentment is already on the verge of eruption. In our view, that is what lies behind the disturbance.
Hong Kong’s property market has long been distorted, and its rich-poor gap has long been wide, but not until John Tsang delivered the 2011-12 Budget were citizens filled with a common hatred for the SAR government. We believe the MPF injection proposal kindled their anger. The MPF system has been in place for over a decade. When one looks at one’s MPF account, one may find there is only “chicken feed” in it though one has put money into it month after month for eleven years. One can hardly hope one can live on one’s MPF when one is old. However, big companies that manage MPF accounts get huge management fees year after year. It is abundantly clear that they eat into wage earners’ hard-earned money. Citizens therefore have great aversion to the MPF system. That is a reality here. When one heard John Tsang say he proposed to inject $6,000 into every MPF account and the injections would total as much as $24 billion, what immediately occurred to one was that the government plainly wanted to benefit MPF management companies.
The disturbance evidences citizens’ aversion to the MPF system. In our view, the government must come to realise this and seize the opportunity to re-examine it comprehensively and take policy measures to end its inequities so that it will provide employees with adequate retirement protection and lessen the financial burden population aging may put on the government instead of allowing MPF managers to line their pockets by eating into employees’ hard-earned money.
What better relief measures should the government propose? To turn the tide of public sentiment instantly, it may have to consider giving every citizen money. We suggest
(1) that, to be fair, it offer each pensionable government employee tax breaks totalling $6,000, and
(2) that it pay contributions to every MPF account on its holder’s behalf to the extent of $6,000 or it do so to the extent of $3,000 and offer the holder tax breaks totalling $3,000. The employer of the MPF account holder should pay the holder the money he would otherwise have to pay into the MPF account as the holder’s contributions. If either option is taken, the MPF account holder will soon have $6,000 at his disposal.
明報社評 2011.03.01﹕民情如火山爆發 肇因強積金不義