HK income gap ‘widest among rich economies’

SCMP Oct 23, 2009

The income gap between the rich and poor in Hong Kong is the widest among the world’s wealthiest economies, according to a UN report.

The report also shows that the richest 10 per cent in the city enjoy about a third of the total income, while the poorest 10 per cent share just 2 per cent.

The Human Development Report, released by the United Nations Development Programme on October 5, shows Hong Kong had a relatively high Gini index of 43.4 in 2007, the highest among “very high human development” economies.

Hong Kong is closely followed by Singapore, at 42.5, the US, at 40.8, and South Korea, at 39.2.

The Gini coefficient is a widely used indicator of income inequality. The lower the measurement, the more equal the wealth distribution. A measurement of zero would indicate absolute equality and 100 would mean absolute inequality.

An economy is classified as “very high human development” when people can expect to be better educated, live longer and earn more than their predecessors.

The mainland, which is grouped among economies of “medium human development”, has a Gini coefficient of 41.5, and India, in the same group, 36.8.

The Census and Statistics Department published a separate series of Gini coefficients two years ago, which showed an increase from 0.518 in 1996 to 0.525 in 2001 and a further increase to 0.533 in 2006. The department uses a scale of zero to one.

This local trend reflects an increasing household income disparity over the period. A Labour and Welfare Bureau spokeswoman said the disparity was a result of the transition of the city towards a knowledge-based economy.

“The increase in the demand for people with higher qualifications and professional, technical or management skills has helped widen the income of different types of employees,” she said.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has said that only households earning less than what they would receive in welfare payments could be considered poor. This means a four-member household would have to earn less than HK$9,920 to qualify as “poor”.

Cuo Hong-si, who came to Hong Kong with four relatives from the mainland three years ago, feels his situation has deteriorated.

“I earned about HK$5,000 for my first job here and I am now earning HK$5,500,” he said. “But prices have increased much more.”

Cuo said he and his wife had to work long hours just to make ends meet. Although they had a combined income of about HK$11,000, he said they had no time or spare income for leisure.

Professor Wong Hung of Chinese University said income disparity had worsened since 1981.

“Poor people are not benefiting from the economic growth,” he said.

Wong cautioned that if inequality continued to grow, society would become unstable.

Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation, said the UN report had demonstrated that the government’s policy of emphasising economic growth over supporting the poor was wrong.

Hong Kong Council of Social Services business director Chua Hoi-wai said the income gap was widening because the government’s economic policy was slanted towards certain businesses or industries.

Those without the skills for those activities could not benefit from the growth. The high cost of land was another factor, he said.

“As rental costs increase, companies have to squeeze staff costs to stay competitive,” Chua said. As a result, workers’ wages had stagnated and in some cases fallen, he said.

Yes, that's my grandpa buried under the pavement


EARLIER this year, joggers at Mount Faber would gawk at Mr Henry Koh as he prayed and scattered joss paper in the middle of a paved walkway leading to Henderson Waves.
By Crystal Chan
10 August 2009

EARLIER this year, joggers at Mount Faber would gawk at Mr Henry Koh as he prayed and scattered joss paper in the middle of a paved walkway leading to Henderson Waves.

His grandfather was buried under the pavement, he insisted.

But NParks had said in April that a survey of the area had turned up no graves before the construction of the pavement.

It turned out Mr Koh was right – his grandfather’s remains were indeed buried in the vicinity of the pavement.

The remains were exhumed on 29 Jul.

On Wednesday, the Kohs gathered on a chartered bumboat and scattered the carbonised remains of Mr Koh’s grandfather, Koh Eng Chang, into the sea off Changi Point Ferry Terminal.

Dressed in a Taoist prayer costume, Mr Koh, 46, a sales executive, told The New Paper on Sunday: ‘At last, we can close this matter and my grandfather can rest in peace.’

With him was his cousin, Mrs Diana See, a hawker in her 40s, and two of his sisters.

The New Paper on Sunday reported on 26 Apr that Mr Koh had been haphazardly buried near his home in Mount Faber after he was shot dead by invading Japanese troops in February 1942.

His descendants made offerings at his tomb almost every year until 2005, when the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) closed off the surrounding area to develop Henderson Waves, a 1.6km elevated walkway above Henderson Road.

It is part of a series of pedestrian links that make up the 9km Southern Ridges, stretching from Mount Faber to Kent Ridge.

It was only when the bridges were completed in April last year that the family decided to visit the site again.

And that was when they discovered that their grandfather’s tomb was missing from its original spot at the start of the Southern Ridges.

Mr Koh said: ‘We consulted a gravedigger, but he said he couldn’t do anything as the land belongs to the Government and we need the relevant authorities to help us.’

The Kohs continued to burn joss paper at the spot where Mr Koh’s grandfather was supposedly buried, but felt they could not let his remains stay under the concrete pavement permanently.

A sign

Mr Koh said: ‘We often dreamt of our grandfather and he kept telling us that people were walking all over him in the park. We took the dream as a sign that we had to act on his last rites.’

When The New Paper on Sunday approached NParks in April to comment on Mr Koh’s situation, an official had said that it could not confirm his claims as ‘a pre-construction survey was carried out before building the bridge and there were no graves in the area’.

In late April, the Kohs wrote to NParks, which manages the Southern Ridges, seeking permission to exhume the spot.

On 28 Jun, NParks told Mr Koh that it had no objection to the exhumation as long as the trees and shrubs in the park were not damaged.

The digging would also have to be done manually as machines would not be allowed in the park, said NParks.

The statutory board also said the size of the hoardings used to close up the spot should be limited to 3m by 3m as the pavement is 8m wide. This would allow park users to continue access to the area.

The Kohs consulted a geomancer who told them that it would be auspicious to do the exhumation between 3am and 6am on 29 Jul.

The geomancer also told the family that the remains had to be disposed of within three days of being recovered.

On 8 Jul, the family applied to the National Environment Agency for an exhumation permit and it was granted.

The family hired a granite constructor to do the excavation, which was supervised by NEA officers.

After using shovels to dig more than 2m into the ground, the remains were uncovered and inspected by NEA officers, who told the Kohs they could proceed to scatter these into the sea.

NParks didn’t say why the previous pre-construction survey missed the grave.

Mr Henry Koh said: ‘We dreamt about our grandfather on previous occasions and he told us that if we ever dig up his remains, we were to scatter these into the sea.’