By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
A handful of lawmakers yesterday described the Government as “cool-blooded” at the Legislative Assembly, while criticising the proposed allowances and the lack of support for the disabled people in Macau.
Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Cheong U, defended that attention should not be concentrated solely on the allowance amounts, stressing that the overall benefits the disabled receive after adding up all the other welfare available nowadays “indeed far exceed the allowance amounts”.
The draft law, which proposes to provide disabled people with annual allowances of MOP 6,000 or MOP 12,000 according to the degrees of disability as well as free health care services, was presented for first reading yesterday.
The bill has been passed by a majority of lawmakers, but some of them did admit that they were disappointed with the allowance amounts and the Government’s performance to support this disadvantaged group for all these years.
The lawmakers also criticised that MOP 6,000 and MOP 12,000 were far from enough especially for those who have a severe or profound degree of disability, since lives have become increasingly costly nowadays.
They as well doubted why the draft law excludes non-permanent residents of Macau.
Cheong U responded that the allowances are a “long-term welfare policy” and beneficiaries will not be required to undertake an asset test, but did not elaborate further on why the amounts have been set at MOP 6,000 and MOP 12,000.
“The amounts were initially MOP 5,000 and MOP 10,000, but after discussions we decided to increase them due to rising inflation,” the secretary told the plenary meeting.
“The proposed amounts may not be ideal but the disabled can still benefit from other services and welfare,” he added.
Besides this new allowance, Cheong said there are various types of subsidies from the Social Welfare Bureau (IAS), and the disabled can also receive age pensions, the cash handouts from the Government and 15 years of free education.
Meanwhile, the secretary said both permanent and non-permanent residents of Macau are eligible to apply for the disability assessment registration cards, which begins on March 11 and in the future may enable the holders to enjoy bus concession and other discounts in designated shops and venues.
However, he reiterated that the disabled allowances and free health care services are limited to permanent residents only.
The registration cards will become a prerequisite for receiving all the disabled benefits and welfare to be introduced by the Government in the future.
Vice-president of the legislature Ho Iat Seng said the draft law has discriminated against Macau’s non-permanent residents with disability.
Lawmaker Mak Soi Kun slammed the Government for not providing adequate support to the disadvantaged groups in Macau, asking why it could be “so generous” on the SAR’s 10th anniversary exhibition and was willing to spend tens of millions of public funds on it.
Mak said the disabled allowance amounts should be higher than the minimum subsistence index.
In the meantime, Fong Chi Keong called the Government as being “cold-blooded”, as he believed that policies need to be inclined to this group of people in order to “protect their rights to live”.
On the other hand, acting president of IAS Iong Kong Io admitted that the Government does not have the specific figure of how many disabled people are there in Macau, adding that by taking advantage of next month’s registration card applications, more accurate data will be obtained.
Iong said based on China’s 2006 standards, it is estimated that Macau has around 30,000 people with disability.
Lawmaker Chan Wai Chi pointed out that the disabled allowances were an initiative first mentioned in the 2009 Policy Address, “but more than two years on, the Government still has no idea how many disabled people Macau has”.
Yet, Cheang Chi Keong argued that the Government is not being “stingy” towards the disabled, as other members suggested, explaining that the free healthcare services are intended to cover the rest of their lives and there are other subsidies available that the disabled can apply to.
Stamp duty bill passed
Still yesterday, Secretary for Economy and Finance Francis Tam Pak Yuen also introduced the draft law to abolish the 0.5 percent stamp duty for intermediate transfer of real estate, one of the 10 measures announced by Secretary for Transport and Public Works Lau Si Io late last year to curb speculation in Macau.
In response to some lawmakers’ concerns, Tam stressed that the amendment will not bring any impact to “real users” who purchase the residential units for own use, but will be “effective” in increasing the costs for speculators.
The Government disclosed that the number of declarations of stamp duty on intermediate transfer of property rose from 400 in August 2010 to 1,400 in December of the same year.
The plenary meeting will continue at 3pm today to discuss a pay rise for civil servants as well as a hearing into the Ilha Verde shack demolition.