Singapore—After Paul Chan, the Finance Minister of Hong Kong, said on Friday (February 28) that the donation of the city’s top officials’ salaries to charities in the wake of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 outbreak is not to copy what the leaders of Singapore have done, the editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) explained why it’s better for Hong Kong’s leaders to make the move they made.
When Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat wrapped up the Budget debate in Parliament on Friday (Feb 28), he announced that all ministers and other holders of political office would be taking a one-month pay cut.
This, he said, is being done as a show of solidarity with Singaporeans amid the crisis brought on by the coronavirus outbreak. Mr Heng stressed the need for Singaporeans to act as one, which is how the whole country would win together.
Later that day it was announced in Hong Kong that the city’s Executive Secretary, Carrie Lam, her cabinet and other top officials would donate one month’s salary to the Community Chest of Hong Kong charity organisation. The amount donated would total over HK $10 million (approximately S$ 1.79 million).
The government’s statement read: “The disease has caused a significant impact on the local economy in the past two months. Various sectors have been hard hit, and the public has been challenged to get through these difficult times. To show that the governing team is fighting the disease and riding out the difficult times with the public, the chief executive and all politically appointed officials will donate one month’s remuneration to the Community Chest of Hong Kong for charity purposes.”
The following day, Mr Chan said in a radio interview that the move had not been made as an echo of what Singapore’s leaders have done, but had been discussed earlier.
“It’s a coincidence. Tiding over the hard times with residents was always our intention … As everyone has been discussing [this] recently, we reached a decision on it,” the Finance Minister said.
And while Mr Chan’s budget offers a HK$120 billion relief package for the effects of the Covid-19 epidemic, the HK$10,000 cash handouts to the city’s seven million permanent residents, and other programmes offered to help businesses survive this time of economic turmoil, have been popular with its citizens, others have questioned the donation and asked why Hong Kong’s top officials did not decide on an outright pay cut, as Singapore had done.
Tammy Tam, the Editor-in-Chief of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) took to the an opinion column to explain why, writing, “political correctness does not always necessarily mean viability. Critics advocating a direct pay cut should also be careful what they wish for.”
She pointed out that Hong Kong’s Basic Law states that “pay, allowances, benefits and conditions of service [should remain] no less favourable than before” for all civil servants. The city has only had one pay cut in the past, during the SARS outbreak. The pay cut was pegged at 4.8 percent.
Furthermore, Ms Tam points out that because the government is the largest employer in the city, it needs to “be careful not to send out a message to the private sector that the time for pay cuts has arrived.”
Also, she voiced the concern that a pay cut could be counterproductive toward the cash bonuses and other incentives that would stimulate consumption.
She wrote, “Hong Kong is not Singapore politically and economically,” having explained that “copying Singapore or not, a collective donation by political appointees – excluding civil servants – could be the easier way out.” —/TISG
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