SCMP Saturday, August 5, 2000

Wealth will trickle down, insists Tung

WAN WAI-KWAN


The poor will benefit from the economic recovery soon, Tung Chee-hwa said yesterday after a visit to two needy families.

Speaking after a trip to To Kwa Wan, his second district visit in less than a month, the Chief Executive said that he had been listening to appeals from lower-income groups, which were helping to shape his Policy Address in October.

Mr Tung conceded that some members of society were still not sharing the benefits of the recovery. But he said figures had shown the economy was growing strongly and the growth was sustainable. The Government was confident benefits would eventually filter down.

"At the end of the day it's education that is going to help people get out of poverty and head for a better quality of life," said Mr Tung. In the final analysis, the solution to the problem of the gap between rich and poor lay in helping the poor help themselves.

Meanwhile, Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said in Adelaide that unemployment would continue to be the Government's greatest challenge, and he admitted the problem would persist in the short term.

But he stood by a prediction he made earlier in his Australian visit that the jobless rate would fall to three per cent from the present five per cent by the end of next year.

That prediction has drawn criticism from unionists, who say Mr Tsang has been unsympathetic to grassroots workers. Economists have also cast doubt on its validity.

Mr Tsang agreed yesterday that the unemployment problem could not be resolved in just a year or two, although there had been a gradual monthly improvement with a 0.1 percentage point drop.

"What I said is that with such a pace, the unemployment rate can drop to three per cent in 18 to 24 months," he said. "The world is far from perfect. I do not mean things will be perfectly fine in two years. The unemployment problem will be with us for a long time ahead."

He said that while the unemployment rate for professionals showed clear signs of improvement, many in the retailing and service industries, including the restaurant trade, were still jobless. "The problem is particularly serious in the construction sector," he said.

But former unionist lawmaker Lee Kai-ming said yesterday that many would remain jobless, as they lacked the skills to find jobs in the information technology-driven boom. "Even if the economy is growing strongly, and job vacancies increase, general labourers will not necessarily be better off, " he said.

Mr Lee said large firms were still cutting costs by preferring contract to permanent workers or allowing junior people take up senior posts at lower salaries.