Thursday 19 July 2012

HK's new leader unveils sweeteners to pacify angry public

REUTERS, 17 Jul 2012

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's embattled new leader, Leung Chun Ying, announced a series of welfare measures on Monday and pleaded for time to deal with scandals that have rocked the city, including illegal structures in his own home.

The Chief Executive was speaking during his first question-and-answer session in the city's Legislative Council since taking over two weeks ago.

'I am aware of the doubts by a lot of people on my political team and me,' said Mr Leung.

'I hope you give the government space and time to do something real so we win trust and respond to the aspirations of the public.'

Mr Leung announced a string of sweeteners in a bid to appease a populace that is increasingly frustrated with a widening income gap and high living costs. There were also measures aimed at tackling poverty among the elderly, and housing needs.

For example, he promised that the monthly welfare allowance for low-income residents over 65 will be doubled. Elderly residents will see a doubling of health-care vouchers for them to consult private doctors as part of a larger plan to improve primary health care.

Each year, 5,000 people with a monthly income of HK$30,000 (S$4,900) and below will be allowed to buy subsidised flats in the secondary market.

Mr Leung also tried to contain the backlash from a recent spate of scandals that have tarnished the city's reputation as a relatively corruption-free financial centre, and fuelled public anger.

Last week, Mr Leung's hand-picked development secretary Mak Chai Kwong was arrested in an investigation into the misuse of government housing allowances.

Mr Leung is himself ensnared in a scandal over six illegal structures at his HK$500 million home in the exclusive Peak district.

'I have been seriously neglectful of this issue but I have not concealed any possible contraventions. In fact, they have all been dealt with swiftly, some of them have been removed in a day or two,' he said of the illegal structures.

Referring to the arrest and resignation of his development secretary, Mr Leung said the incident has given his team much to ponder and learn from but he pleaded for patience.

'I and my team have been reviewing ourselves with humility. We should learn lessons from these incidents,' he said.

As Mr Leung spoke in the legislature, maverick activist lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok Hung hurled an effigy of Pinocchio, the children's story- book character prone to telling lies, at the new leader, missing him by a few metres. The Chief Executive was unfazed, maintaining a stoic expression throughout the 90-minute session.

More than 50 protesters gathered outside, holding placards and banners telling Mr Leung to speak the truth. 'Leung Chun Ying: Liar' one banner proclaimed.

Tens of thousands of people protested when Mr Leung was sworn in on July 1. Over the past two weeks, the new Chief Executive has come up against protests during district visits, with people questioning his credibility and at one point chasing him out of a town hall meeting.

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