Unjust MPF system

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

本年度政府財政大豐收,盈餘累積已達938億元,財政儲備更破了6000億元大關,人們原本認為曾俊華這一份預算案很容易做,只需推出適當紓困措施,就會贏得喝采。豈料,預算案連派糖小事也引發民怨,其中曾俊華拒絕退稅,選擇給超過300萬個強積金戶口,每個注資6000元,最惹市民反彈。

這份預算案不得民心,乃社會最大共識,對於政府而言,就算沒有政黨、團體發起的3月6日大遊行,都應該審時度勢,改變僵硬取態。曾俊華打倒昨日之我,由堅持預算案沒有修改空間,到改口說很快拿出具體改善方案,反映特區政府未至於「死牛一邊頸」,官員還識得反思自省,這是值得慶幸之處。

曾俊華提出改善方案之外,政府應該深入檢視這次風波的深層原因。我們認為,這次派糖引發民情如火山爆發,曾俊華選擇不退稅只是導火線,深層原因是數年來,市民對樓市政策失誤,土地供應不足,樓價如脫韁野馬,政府堅拒復建居屋,使夾心階層市民、特別是年輕一代望樓興嘆,置業安居無期,加上貧富懸殊惡化,社會矛盾愈趨尖銳,市民怨懟日亟,本已到了臨界點。

樓市扭曲、貧富懸殊並非今時今日有之,但是預算案之前,未見市民「敵愾同仇」,我們認為注資強積金是「撻?」市民情緒的關鍵。強積金已經實施逾10 年,但是市民檢視自己的強積金,累積了11年,只有「雞碎咁多」,展望未來,難望賴以養老;但是,管理強積金的銀團,每年收取巨額管理費,其蠶食打工仔辛勤血汗所得的實質,昭昭在目,市民對於強積金,甚為仇視,此乃本港的現實。所以,當曾俊華宣布給每個強積金戶口注資6000元,總數達240億元之時,許多人立即想到的是政府「明益」銀團。

這次注資風波,完全反映市民「仇視強積金」。我們認為政府要看到這一點,應該趁機會全面檢討強積金的運作和管理,採取政策措施,調整強積金不義的一面,讓它回復市民可賴以退休、減輕人口老化對政府財政開支構成的壓力,改變強積金養肥銀團、管理人,蠶食打工仔血汗所得的局面。

至於紓困措施改善方案,收到即時扭轉民情的效果,或許全民派錢會是政府考慮選項之一。我們建議:

(1)本諸公平原則,約12萬長俸公務員,可以獲得扣除稅款最多6000元,扣滿為止;

(2)其他打工仔的6000元,可以有兩個選擇。一是打工仔每月供款,由政府代供,達到6000元為止,其間僱主每月要把打工仔的應供款項,以薪金方式發放,這個做法使打工仔多了錢用。二是6000元分兩部分,3000元按上述政府代供處理,另外3000元則扣稅,使打工仔短期內就有6000元可供支配。

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