[Viewpoint]A government that gives backLee Hallen, just over the age of 40, is a professor at a college in Hong Kong. Her annual salary last year was 400,000 Hong Kong dollars, or 48 million Korean won. She is a typical middle-class person in Hong Kong. The average annual per-capita income is close to $30,000. She has taken great interest in Korea, and offered to buy me dinner the other day.
At dinner, I said to her, “You must have something to celebrate, to buy me dinner.”
She said with a laugh, “I’m not buying it, the Hong Kong government is.”
I said, “Do you mean the tax return the Hong Kong government announced the other day?”
The Hong Kong government announced on March 1 that it would return to its citizens HK$20 billion, 36 percent of last year’s surplus.
She said, “Yes, I like the government, because it even gives out bonuses. By the way, does the Korean government return taxes to taxpayers when the economy goes well?”
I replied, “I don’t think so.”
Based on her annual salary, the income tax she paid last year would be HK$38,900. But this year’s income tax was HK$33,700, HK$5,200 less than last year.
On top of that, she received a refund of HK$15,000, 10 percent more than expected, as a result of year-end adjustments.
The government gave all of the credit for last year’s high economic growth of 6.8 percent to the citizens and increased the scope and amount of tax deductions.
I also asked her about the coming elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive, which are scheduled for March 25. I asked her whom she supported. She answered that it did not matter whether the present leader, Donald Tsang or his rival candidate, Alan Leong of the Civic Party, won.
Whoever wins, she argued, the efficiency, capability and integrity of the Hong Kong government, whose competitiveness is ranked first or second in the world, will not change.
I asked her, “Do you trust the government?”
She answered, “Yes. It makes the people comfortable.”
“How does it make you comfortable?”
“The government invites foreign companies to make the economy go well, and the citizens trust the government to maintain law and order.”
“Besides the economy, does the government give consideration to the citizens in any other way?”
“It has done a lot for their daily lives.”
The following are a few examples Professor Lee Hallen gave of the government’s consideration for its citizens:
There is no need for citizens to push into a crowded subway. They have only to wait and take the next train that will arrive in exactly one minute. The subway exit is arranged exactly according to the line of movement so citizens can save a few steps.
Emergency patients can get treatment for 30,000 yuan or US$38 at the government-run hospitals, even if they have brain surgery.
The government pays 80 percent of tuition fees if students learn six foreign languages because of its belief that citizens’ competitiveness leads to national competitiveness.
If they don’t follow the rules, the citizens have to pay high prices. This is the government’s consideration for citizens who observe the rules.
A household’s Internet service will be disconnected immediately if the fee is not paid by the due date. A reconnection fee of HK$100 must then be paid to resume the service.
If a credit card payment is not made on time, a penalty of 200 yuan will be imposed even if the payment is made the next day.
The government levies taxes based on the reports submitted by accountants without conducting a business tax examination. But if any false accounting is revealed, they must give up doing business in Hong Kong.
There are no Breathalyzer tests either. But if driving under the influence of alcohol is confirmed to at least partially be the cause of an accident, the driver will not only be put in detention, but also be responsible for all the damage incurred.
Professor Hallen said all of these things make citizens’ lives easier.
When I read the news on Korea on the Internet after the dinner, an article said Korea’s wage earners would pay about US$190 more taxes this year than last year.
*The writer is the Hong Kong correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Choi Hyeong-gyu