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Transcript of remarks at press conference on public engagement exercise on retirement protection

     The Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam; the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, and the Government Economist, Mrs Helen Chan, held a press conference on a public engagement exercise on retirement protection at the Auditorium, Central Government Offices, Tamar, this afternoon (December 22).  Following is the transcript of remarks at the press conference:

Reporter: Mrs Lam, what do you have to say to critics who may say your consultation is fake because obviously you already have your preference over the two options? And some people also accuse you of trying to scare the taxpayers by putting forward all the figures, and what do you have to say about that?

Chief Secretary for Administration: As I have said in my introduction, this is a very genuine and comprehensive public consultation on the future of retirement protection in Hong Kong. So I will not accept any criticism that this is a sort of fake consultation. The government officials involved as well as the entire Commission on Poverty have spent a lot of time to come up with this very comprehensive and detailed document to consult the public, and we would like to see an informed debate on this very, very important matter in Hong Kong. As I have said at the beginning, this is the first time since the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region that we engage the public to discuss retirement protection. I hope that that demonstrates the commitment and the sincerity of this term of the Hong Kong SAR Government.

     As far as the Government's preference, this only concerns what we call whether we are using sort of "regardless of rich or poor" or "those with financial needs" approach to provide more support to elders in need. This is a very important matter. It will have very serious and significant financial implications for Hong Kong, especially in terms of public finances because the Government does not itself produce money. The money to support these sorts of programmes has to come from the people. So on such an important matter I have said that it would be irresponsible of the Government not to state its position. So this is not just a question of sort of preference; this is really a matter of responsibility, to share with the members of the public the importance and the significance of the matter. And finally, producing those figures and those impacts on taxation and so on is not to scare the public. Quite on the contrary, we want to engage the public in an informed debate, and you cannot have a rational and informed debate without all this information and figures being put in front of you. My team on my left, led by Helen (the Government Economist, Mrs Helen Chan), together of course with the census colleagues, have spent a lot of time to produce those figures and to update all the figures given to us by the various options presented in Professor Nelson Chow's report. Thank you very much.

Reporter: In your slides, page number 29, you said that the simulated "those with financial needs" option is more effective in alleviating poverty. Does this mean that the way Government sees it is that retirement protection is not a human right but just a way to alleviate poverty? That's my first question. The second one is, I'd like to know, by 2064, according to the simulated "those with financial needs" option, how many elderly people would be able to benefit from this option in your estimation? Thank you.

Chief Secretary for Administration: I will invite the Government Economist to address your second question. As far as the first question is concerned, I don't think we should labour ourselves with this sort of ideology on whether this subject matter is a matter of right or whether it is a poverty alleviation policy. But it is certainly society's common wish that we want to take better care of elders, and by this we should mean elders in need because for elders who are not in need, who have sufficient resources to look after themselves, like myself and Matthew, I don't think we should look to the younger generation to help us in retirement. So the whole exercise that we are now doing is actually trying to fulfil the Chief Executive's mandate, in his pledge in his manifesto, that we should try various means - short term, medium term, long term - to improve the retirement protection and social security systems in Hong Kong to help elders in need.

Government Economist: As to the question about the number of beneficiaries in 2064, our basic assumption is that around 39 per cent of the total elderly population - 2.58 million people, which will be the total number of elders in 2064, will be eligible for OALA (Old Age Living Allowance) and around 60 per cent of them will be able to benefit from the "those with financial needs" option. That means around one million (should be 0.6 million) people out of that 2.58 (million) total population of people aged 65 and above (will be benefited).

Reporter: I just want to ask, because you said even if after the consultation period that taxpayers are really willing to pay more tax to support the "regardless of rich or poor" plan, but then the Government will still consider Hong Kong's competitiveness after tax increase, so what is actually the deciding factor for the Government to finally decide to put forward a certain plan for the whole scheme? Thank you.

Chief Secretary for Administration: Well, like all important government policies, I don't think there is a single deciding factor. We probably will have to take into account a basket of factors in deciding the way forward for retirement protection or improving retirement protection in Hong Kong, but I can assure you that in the coming six months we will listen very attentively to public opinions. But at the same time I hope very much that this expression of public opinion over such an important topic is based on facts, is based on clear arguments and considerations, and is not just a matter of slogan, asking for things that we have been asking for for a long time and that's why you have to give us this particular scheme. That's why we have spent so much time in preparing the consultation document, and we will go all out to engage the stakeholders in taking forward this public consultation.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Issued at HKT 22:40


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