‘Utang’: Why Hong Kong’s DH fall into debt traps

‘Utang’: Why Hong Kong’s DH fall into debt traps
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Filipina domestic helpers enjoy their day off on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Central. Local charity EnrichHK estimates 51 percent of domestic helpers in the territory have loans ranging from HK$ 1,000 to more than HK$ 10,000, based on a survey they made in 2015.

 

“Precious” has been working in Hong Kong as a domestic helper for two years now. In July of 2016, she was forced to make a loan of HK$ 13,000 because of two emergencies. Back home, in the southern Philippines’ city of Pagadian, her husband’s body was numbing, and her only child’s blood platelets were dropping rapidly due to Dengue virus. She doesn’t have immediate cash for their hospitalization and borrowing money from credit companies was the only solution she could think of.  Today, after nine months of budgeting HK$ 1,585 every month from her salary, she’s about to finish paying her loan. She is thinking of borrowing money again to build their own house in the Philippines.

 

“Trina,” another Filipina domestic helper in Hong Kong for 13 years now, also made a loan last year for her sister’s placement fee in Canada. She borrowed HK$ 40,000, payable within 18 months with monthly interest of 1.69 percent. Majority of her HK$ 4,500 salary every month goes to loan payment, and the rest is sent to her family in the Philippines. She said she just need HK$ 30 every Sunday when she goes to church. She’s living in her employer’s flat and food is provided.

“Maria’s” case is different. She did not intend to borrow money, but in 2014, out of debt-of-gratitude to another domestic helper who financially helped her before, she agreed to vouch for her when the latter borrowed HK$ 40,000 to a Filipina moneylender. Soon her friend left Hong Kong for Russia, leaving Maria the responsibility of paying. She was not able to pay the moneylender, as she was also paying a personal loan in the Philippines at the same time. The amount loaned spiked to HK$ 100,000 due to non-payment and accumulation of interest. She was harassed, threatened, and intimidated. She sought help from the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong and the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW). Her case remains unresolved up to now.

The stories of Precious, Trina, and Maria are just microcosms of the growing concern of hundreds of thousands of migrant domestic helpers in Hong Kong – debt. Enrich HK, a local charity promoting economic empowerment of migrant domestic workers, estimates 51 percent of helpers in Hong Kong struggle with debt, and the numbers continue to rise as more migrant workers arrive each year to work in Hong Kong.

In some cases, helpers have exhausted all possible sources of loans to pay for other outstanding loans, and debts pile one after another, and they hardly make the ends meet, thus loans accumulate interests beyond their capacity to pay. These give the loan sharks chance to harass and intimidate the helpers and their employers to force payment, leading to eventual termination of the helpers’ contracts, depression, and sometimes suicide.

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An advertisement of a lending company appearing in the front page of mid-April 2017 issue of The Sun, a newspaper catering to the Filipino population in Hong Kong.

The Root Cause of Helpers’ Debts

According to MFMW’s General Manager Cynthia Abdon – Tellez, domestic helpers get buried in debt because they are already in debt even before coming to Hong Kong.

“Although the Philippine government scrapped the placement or agency fees in December 2006 for outgoing Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), they mandated that helpers should undergo skills and language training and other seminars prior to their employment. These trainings, conducted by placement agencies, do not have ceiling prices for training rates and can range from PHP 5,000 to PHP 100,000 (HK$ 800 – 16,000). Where will they get that amount?” said Tellez.

Historically, according to her, moneylenders started to mushroom during the mid-1980s when Philippine Pres. Ferdinand Marcos made a force remittance order to all land-based OFWs to help the ailing economy of the country. Migrant workers were obliged to remit 50 percent of their monthly salary to their families back home through some specific banks in the Philippines, and failure to comply means non-renewal of their passports. Passports during that time expire every two years. Some OFWs thought it would be easy to make a one-time payment before their contracts end, only to find out it was a struggle to produce the amount required by the Philippine government for them to renew their passports and contracts. Thus, they resorted to moneylenders.

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Cynthia Abdon – Tellez (left), general manager of Mission for Migrant Workers, and Tynna Mendoza (right), program manager of EnrichHK, said helpers get buried in debt because they are already in debt prior to their arrival in Hong Kong. Employment agencies charge exorbitant placement fees disguised as registration or training fees and taken as a form of fraudulent personal loans before helpers are deployed. 

More loan sharks proliferated in the succeeding years when placement agencies charged exorbitant placement fees to Filipinas seeking greener pastures in Hong Kong.

“They have their way to toy around our law,” said Tellez, referring to placement agencies’ tactics to extract more money from unsuspecting applicants to Hong Kong.

“They would lure the applicants to faster processing of applications but would ask for additional payment, say PHP 30,000. If the applicant does not have money at that moment, they would offer loans from partner moneylenders, but would force the applicant to open a checking account and issue post-dated blank checks,” she added.

The employment agency and its partner financing firm are the ones who decide what to write in the check.

Bounced check, or checks issued without enough funds on the specified date, is estafa, a criminal case in the Philippines.

Sometimes, helpers incur loan without their knowledge.

“When they (domestic helpers) leave the Philippines, or Indonesia, recruitment agencies promise them that everything has been taken care of, only to find out that they have been charged when they reach Hong Kong. It is considered as loan,” said Tynna Mendoza, program manager of Enrich HK.

Tellez also said that around 80 percent of the total salary of domestic helpers are paid to conniving moneylenders and employment agencies, leaving nothing to send to their family back home.

 

MFMW agency fees

According to the recruitment ordinance in HK, the maximum commission by the recruitment agencies that can be collected from workers is 10% of the first month’s wage upon successful deployment.  Currently, this is HK$431.

                However, employment agencies would charge the domestic workers in other names like registration fees or training fees. This practice, though widespread, is plainly illegal.

                This problem is compounded by debt bondage. These fees usually take the form of fraudulent “personal loans” by the worker but are taken as payment by the agencies. The deceptive practice tends to evade the Hong Kong cap on agency commissions but result in workers paying 5 –7 months of their salaries. – MFMW Service Report 2016

 

 

 

 

“There are a lot of moneylenders around them here in Hong Kong, both legal and illegal. Domestic helpers usually turn to these companies and individuals so they can send some money in the Philippines. Some illegal moneylenders, like what was reported last month, ask for the helpers’ passports before they can be granted loans,” she added.

On March 12 – 13, 2017, Hong Kong’s Organized Crime and Triad Bureau arrested a local couple and eight Filipina maids for charging illicit interests to money lent to domestic helpers. Authorities confiscated some 242 passports, work contracts, and other evidences.

The Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong prohibits Filipino citizens from using their passports as loan collaterals and deactivates the travel document if used.

 

Easy Money, Difficult Consequences

When Precious borrowed money from a registered credit company in Hong Kong for the hospitalization of her husband and child, her loan was approved instantly.

“At first I was hesitant to make a loan because I heard stories about other domestic helpers who got into trouble because of unpaid loans,” said the 27-year-old former-nurse-turned-domestic-helper.

But her need was urgent, and she can’t find other ways to save the lives of her family so she applied for a HK$ 13,000 loan from a financing company. She was asked to submit a photocopy of her employment contract, her passport and Hong Kong ID, her address and telephone number in the Philippines and in Hong Kong, and the telephone number of her employer.

The financing company made an overseas call to the Philippines to verify the telephone number she had given.

“I know one domestic helper here in Hong Kong. She went back to the Philippines while she still has existing loan in Hong Kong. I heard the financing company sent representatives to the Philippines and she was reported to NBI (National Bureau of Investigation). They made a way for her to pay her balance in Philippine Peso,” Precious shared.

Her employers do not know that she has incurred a loan here in Hong Kong. They made it clear from the start that they don’t want her getting indebted to anyone.

“Sometimes, when I am checking my e-mail account, they (employers) would peek and ask where the message comes from. Good thing, I pay the lending company on time so I don’t get notices from them,” she said.

Trina also went to the same process as Precious. The former pre-school teacher was required to submit identification documents and address and contact number in the Philippines. And like Precious, her employers do not know that she availed a HK$ 40,000 loan because they oppose the practice and do not want trouble if she won’t be able to pay.

Although it is relatively easy to avail large-amount loans from moneylenders in Hong Kong, the consequences may be devastating if the loaned amount won’t be paid.

When Maria agreed to help her friend borrow money to a Filipina moneylender she knows, she agreed to surrender her passport as loan collateral. She also agreed to use her name as borrower because the financier doesn’t know the friend personally. When her friend left for Russia without a word, the lender ran after Maria. The harassment and intimidation traumatized her, and when she realized that her husband is having an affair with her best friend back in the Philippines, she almost took her life.

“Good thing, I still have a little sanity left then. I turned everything to God. I was ready to face the consequences then. I thought I will be brought to jail,” Maria recalled.

Upon consultation with the priest of her church, she demanded her passport back, which the financier complied. She said the financier cannot bring her to court because the former charged interest more than what Hong Kong law allows.

According to Ms. Tellez, Hong Kong allows lenders to charge up to 60 percent of the principal amount depending on the capacity of the borrower to pay. Illegal financiers, like Maria’s lender, who charge excessive interests are afraid to file cases in small-claims tribunal because they themselves are violating the law. But harassment and intimidation never stop.

The Philippine Consulate promised Maria that they will run after her friend through embassy connections in Russia.

“My biggest mistake is I trusted a wrong person. I learned my lessons now, never trust anyone no matter how friendly they are to you,” she said.

 

Financial Management and Education Advocacy

Charity foundation Enrich HK saw the need for financial management training and education of migrant workers.

“Our founders saw a trend among domestic helpers in Hong Kong that, for the longest time they are working here, they have a hard time saving money, or at least stabilize their finances, and when they go back to the Philippines after years of working, there are no improvements in their financial status,” said Mendoza.

Enrich started teaching basic financial management literacy such as budgeting and saving, and eventually ventured to business courses and a full program that address the whole financial life of their clients. They call it Financial and Empowerment Education Program.

Mendoza said they also teach the domestic helpers how to properly communicate with their families back home so they won’t be tempted to give in to the requests of their loved ones.

“Some helpers borrow money to show off when they go back the Philippines, and I can’t blame them for that. Hong Kong has a lot of temptations. What we do is we remind them of their goals when they decided to work here,” she said.

They also help domestic helpers who have problems with their debts.

“If legal intervention is needed, we usually refer them to MFMW or HELP (Help for Domestic Helpers), but we do sit down with them and help them assess the problem. In a way, that educates them.”

Mendoza said if a domestic helper is planning to make a loan, she should ask herself if it is necessary and if she has the capacity to pay. Should a helper be entangled with difficulty of paying multiple debts, Mendoza suggests they should pay the one which charges the biggest interest first.

When asked about her idea of ending the cycle of indebtedness among migrant workers in Hong Kong, Mendoza believes that strong law enforcement and regulations on sources of exploitative charges would reduce the cases significantly.

“If the sending country and the host country would have institutional partnerships and hold trainings on financial literacy and management, it would help a lot in alleviating this pressing problem among domestic helpers,” she concluded.

 

*’Utang’ or ‘Hutang’ is the Filipino and Bahasa Indonesia’s word for debt.

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Europe-based org shares crowdfunding journalism insights

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Jaroslav Valuch, project leader of Press Start crowdfunding platform, shares tips on how to start a crowdfunding journalism campaign to HKBU students during the TPG European study tour last Jan. 3, 2017 in Prague, Czech Republic.
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Jeremy Druker, Exec. Director and Editor-in-Chief of Transitions Online shared his good and bad experiences in crowdfunding journalism, and the lessons he learned from it.
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HKBU students visiting the websites of Press Start and TOL.

Wendy Funes is from Honduras, one of the most dangerous places in Central America to be a journalist. She does not speak English, and her network of friends and connections is not big. She does not have bank account either.  But she is very passionate in doing investigative journalism. In fact, she even faked her death once to prove that getting important documents such as death certificate is very easy in her country. She needed funds for her investigative work, and she had a hard time getting benefactors from crowdfunding websites because she lacked “appeal.”

Funes and her like is what Press Start works for. Per its website, Press Start is a crowdfunding platform designed specifically to support journalists where the press cannot report freely and it aims to revolutionize the way independent journalism is funded in the developing world and countries in transition.

In a talk co-organized by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) School of Communication and Transitions Online (TOL), a Europe-based non-profit organization, TOL Executive Director Jeremy Druker and Press Start Project Leader Jaroslav Valuch shared their experiences and lessons learned in crowdfunding journalism to the Taught Postgraduates student-participants of Europe study tour in Prague, Czech Republic last Jan. 3, 2017.

Druker said that journalists from Third World countries usually don’t enjoy the same privilege the American journalists have in terms of crowdfunding, particularly in United States-based platforms, as donors prefer the latter because they already have solid base of networks. Institutions, such as Press Start, also get low donation throughput because benefactors think they already have money to finance projects.

“Individuals receive funds more easily compared to institutions because they have ‘face’ and donors easily trust them,” he said.

Valuch, on the other hand, shared some tips on how to become successful with crowdfunding journalism projects, and how to sustain it after the launch.

Both speakers said that the month before the launch is the most crucial as project proponents need to beef up their marketing and promotion skills to ensure the success of the campaign. They suggested that donors, particularly those who personally know the beneficiaries, should put at least 20 percent of the fund needed to steer more donations. And unlike other crowdfunding platforms, Press Start augments finances from their general fund to beneficiaries who fell short of target amount.

The speakers said the success of their campaign gave independent journalists from countries where media is oppressed the chance to be heard by the rest of the world and contribute to the development of the society.

In the end of the talk, the guests encouraged the HKBU students to spread awareness of their advocacy when they go back home and find journalists who can be helped by the crowdfunding platform.

As for Funes, she was able to raise the $1,120 fund needed through Press Start to write the story about the alleged cover-up of local officials on the series of gang rapes of young women.

The Tower of Faith and Passion

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Parishioners “kiss” the hand of Fr. Dwight Dela Torre after the Sunday mass at St. John’s Cathedral in Central, Hong Kong.

It was hot and humid Sunday afternoon of November when bells began ringing in a sing-song manner in St. John’s Cathedral, Hong Kong. Parishioners, mostly women in their 20s who are busy chatting in Tagalog and Visayan languages, started to occupy the few remaining seats in the pew. Six middle-aged women wearing “volunteer” IDs ushered newcomers to vacant seats and distributed missals printed in green bond papers. A group of around forty women, all dressed in white cassock with red hood, started to form a line at the entrance of the church. The leader carries a long brass cross, while two others carrying huge and thick candles positioned themselves on her sides.

A man emerged from the sacristy. He was wearing green vestment with a red chi rho embroidery, a superimposition of the letters P and X which means Christ in Greek. As he walked down the aisle of the cathedral to the formation near the entrance, some women reached for his hand and placed it in their forehead. He cheerfully responded to their kind acts, asking how they are or their relatives, remembering them with their first or nick names.

The church organ started to play a joyous melody. The leader lifted the brass cross and started walking towards the altar. Behind her is the priest, the man in the green vestment, carrying a bible. The rest of the women who are all choir members followed them in two lines. The Aglipayan mass has begun in the Gothic-style century-old cathedral in Central.

The celebrant is Reverend Father Dwight Q. Dela Torre. His family name is a Spanish phrase which means “of the tower,” which aptly describes his position as the Philippine Independent Church’s first Chaplain of the Mission for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, like a beacon that guides the sea of distressed Filipino workers in a land far away from home.

Fr. Dela Torre was born in Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental province in southern Philippines sixty years ago. After finishing his Associate in Arts and Bachelors in Theology degrees from St. Andrews Theological Seminary in Quezon City in 1978, he was ordained as a priest of the Philippine Independent Church, popularly known as Aglipayan, a catholic denomination independent from Rome. He finished his Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 1994 from Trinity University of Asia, formerly Trinity College of Quezon City.

After his ordination, he was assigned to different parishes all over the country from the town of Alubilid in Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao, to Bacoor, Cavite in the island of Luzon before becoming the Executive Assistant to the Obispo Maximo or Supreme Bishop, the highest leader of the Church.

When the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) was organized in 1981, General Manager Cynthia Abdon – Tellez said she handpicked Fr. Dela Torre to lead the congregation because she has high regards for him. At that time, a member of the clergy is needed to substantiate the mission’s presence in Hong Kong. Thus, in 1994, Fr. Dela Torre started his new job as the Chaplain of Filipino Christians in Hong Kong and eventually, of the Mission for Migrant Workers, including Indonesians and other nationalities.

Church and Personal Mission

“The problem with many Filipinos is they easily forgive,” said Fr. Dela Torre in between sipping soup from a bowl of Chinese noodle and checking his iPhone for incoming messages. He was wearing a light blue polo-barong, the short-sleeved variation of the Philippines’ national shirt for men, commonly worn in offices and schools. His clerical collar gives him the aura of dignity and respect.

“So even if their employers wronged them, did not give what is due them, they tend to forgive them (employers) easily. They always think it is better to keep their jobs even if there is injustice than to see their families starving back home,” he continued in Tagalog language as he wiped his mouth with a paper napkin from the cozy restaurant below Cheung Kong Center in Central.

Parallel to his church’s character, Fr. Dela Torre is a fighter for the oppressed. It has been his advocacy to seek justice for the abused, maltreated, wrongly-accused, and physically-assaulted migrant workers in Hong Kong. The Aglipayan church, founded by activist Isabelo Delos Reyes in 1902, has a reputation of being radical. Fr. Dela Torre believes that he advances the causes of the church if he stands for truth and seek justice.

“I will not be true to my ministry and the history of the church [if I will let people suffer],” he said

“Once there was a group of 40 airport construction workers,” he shared. “They signed a contract with the agency, and they are receiving a fairly big salary for their work. But what they received is less than what was stipulated in their contract. We found out that the agency deducts certain percentage from their wage, which, if you will compute, will amount to large amount of money too.”

“These are the kinds of cases we lobby in arbitration courts here in Hong Kong,” he said.

Since the start of the mission, Fr. Dela Torre and his team have helped more than 34,000 cases of migrant workers, ranging from petty issues such as accusation of theft, to more serious ones like sexual harassment and rape. In an average, the center handles around 1,000 cases per year. Their services include person-to-person, social media, and telephone counseling, giving shelters for displaced workers, giving advices for labor and immigration-related problems, and pastoral care and religious services.

He has only four fulltime staff and more than 30 volunteers in the center, mostly other migrants that the mission has helped, and students from some prominent Hong Kong universities.

The Grumpy Priest

“He gets irritated easily,” Virginia Castro, a parishioner for 17 years, said while laughing. “When you are given a task, and you did not accomplish it on time, expect that you will be verbally reprimanded.”

She shares the same opinion with MFMW’s Tellez and Esperanza San Diego, a university professor in the Philippines.

“He becomes grouchy if the client is not transparent,” said Tellez, referring to the abused migrant workers they are helping who do not reveal all the facts of their cases.

In his sermons during masses, Fr. Dela Torre would usually seize the opportunity to lecture parishioners on proper decorum while inside the church, reminding people not to leave when the mass is not yet over.

“I have known Dwight since our college days. He’s a perfectionist and gets irritated when he can’t accomplish his goals, but it is also easy to pacify him,” said San Diego in a phone interview from the Philippines. She also said that despite his grumpy attitude, Fr. Dela Torre is very caring, intelligent, and a supportive friend.

Castro also confirmed Fr. Dela Torre’s kind nature. She said the priest is very easy to approach when one needs something, be it financial or spiritual advice.

And while many would be intimidated with the authoritative nature of Fr. Dela Torre, Tellez said he is friendly and a lot of people are surprised to find out that they can exchange jokes with him.

Retirement Plans

“Do I look old?” he jokingly asked while brushing his short white hair with his hand. “Maybe I should also trim this and have my hair dyed,” referring to his white stubbles prominent with his brown complexion.

When he has spare time, he would spend it watching Youtube videos of Simon and Garfunkle, Peter, Paul, and Mary, James Taylor, and Jim Croce. He is also fond of reading books of John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Lee Child, and David Baldachi.

Fr. Dela Torre is married to Estella, who is currently in the Philippines. They have no children.

He plans to retire by the age of 65, and if his health would permit, he would serve parishes in the Philippines and probably teach in the seminary.

“In few years, I will retire. But as long as I am here, I will fight for the cause of migrant workers,” he said.

“As long as there are more windows in POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency) than the number of lawyers fighting for our oppressed migrant workers, as long as there are illegal recruiters who benefit from the injustices done to others, and as long as there are no just-paid work in the Philippines, there will be forced migration, prone to abuses and exploitation.”

“Migrants should stand up for their rights,” he concluded.

Pulitzer winners inspire HKBU students

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Telling the truth and making change are the unified message of seven Pulitzer Prize winners to hundreds of Communication and Journalism students of Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) during the 7th Pulitzer Prize Winners Workshop (PPWW)opening ceremonies and public forum held on Oct. 25, 2016 at Shaw Campus’ WLB103 Conference Hall.

The theme for this year’s workshop is Bearing Witnesses: The Reporting of Human Triumphs and Failings.

Robin McDowell, Esther Htusan, George Rodrigue, Prof. William Snyder, Susan Snyder, Kristen Graham, and Ben Solomon, who all received Pulitzer Prizes in different categories, encouraged the students to work hard and expose inequality and abuses and make positive impression to intended audiences.

“Journalism is a serious profession that you have potentially profound impact on the lives of the people by telling the truth, or by failing to tell the truth,” explained Rodrigue who twice won the Pulitzer for his reports on discrimination in government – subsidized housing in 1986, and in 1994 for uncovering abuses against women.

“Maybe someone sitting in this audience someday will win the Pulitzer. All you have to do is to have the desire to make a difference and work really hard to expose injustices and to tell the stories of everyday people,” added Graham who, together with Susan, won the 2012 Public Service Award for their report on violence in schools.

McDowell and Htusan won the 2016 Pulitzer for Public Service for their investigative report on labor malpractices in the seas of Southeast Asia which led to justice and reforms. William has won the Pulitzer four times since 1989 for photography and explanatory journalism. Solomon, who works for the New York Times, bagged the 2015 International Reporting award for their stories on Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Students and faculty members were given the chance to interact with the speakers after the opening ceremonies. When asked about their personal safety and preparations before covering stories, the winners willingly shared their experiences to the audience.

“To be a good journalist, you have to be dedicated. You have to be sympathetic to people, and that is very important,” said Htusan.

The seven guests will stay in HKBU for the next three days and deliver talks and lectures as part of the biennial PPWW. The event is organized by HKBU’s School of Communication and this year’s workshop is sponsored by HKBU Strategic Development Fund. It aims to broaden the vision of journalists and enhance the quality of journalism education in Hong Kong and Greater China region.

The Pulitzer Prizes are the highest accolade bestowed on journalists in United States. Named after Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian – American journalist and publisher, the award covers major fields of journalism. It is celebrating its centennial this year.

“Silver Tsunami” hits Hong Kong

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It was an early autumn morning in Sai Wan Ho. Kwong Yee, 74, got off his bed and went to the toilet for his daily morning ritual. He then proceeds to the living room to read the morning newspaper while his Filipina helper for seven years, Ruby Calo, prepares his breakfast. In a few hours, he will visit his friends in the nearby community to play mah jong. By next month, the retired policeman and his family will travel to Europe for their regular overseas vacation.

On the other side of the sea, in the busy streets of Sham Shui Po is another man of Kwong Yee’s age. But unlike Kwong Yee, his morning is spent scavenging trash bins for leftover food. His only property is a hand-me-down trolley cart full of old umbrellas and rubbish plastic bags. With nowhere to go, the homeless wanderer has made the streets his home.

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These are the two faces of Silver Tsunami that has hit Hong Kong in the early 2000 and will last until 2040. And as the post-war baby-boomers have reached their retirement age, more diverse scenarios are expected to come. Hospitals will be swarmed with elderly people suffering from degenerative diseases which is aggravated by the high cost of geriatric care.  Silver tsunami is expected to peak in 2018.

According to the Hong Kong government website legco.gov.hk, there are more people now aged 65 and above than those who are 0-14 since 2011 and is expected to grow to 32% in 2041 from the current 17% of the total population. Life expectancy is also expected to increase from the current 81.4 for males and 87.6 for females to 84.4 and 90.8 respectively. And as a result of the ageing population, elderly dependency ratio is also predicted to increase. Currently, the ratio is pegged at 231 elderlies for every 1000 people of 15-64 group age.

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“Under a do-nothing scenario, population ageing could entail propound implications to our socio-economic development and public finance,” says hkeconomy.gov.hk in its article entitled Population Ageing in Hong Kong: Challenges and Opportunities.

 feedinghk.com reported that 1 in every 5 people in Hong Kong live in poverty, and 1 in every 3 senior citizens struggle to meet their basic nutritional needs. With almost 1.5 million people living below HK$ 3,275 per month, it is unlikely to save a part of their income for their future, considering the high cost of living in the territory.

While old people in Hong Kong enjoy benefits such as low transportation fare, subsidized clinic allowance, and free medical services, Peter P. Yuen of Hong Kong Polytechnic University thinks that the current system is quite alarming as government subsidies and expenditures rely heavily in tax money.

In his article published in Hong Kong Public Administration Association journal, Yuen stressed that Hong Kong’s total expenditure for health and long-term care and services is expected to grow from 5.3% to 9.2% in 2030. It is a big problem as there will be a drastic decrease in workforce participation due to baby-boomers’ retirement from the current 58.8% down to 49.5% by 2041. The tax-dependent financing model is likely non-sustainable with the declining labor force and the growing number of elder persons, he concluded.

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As for the government, it established the Steering Committee on Population Policy (SCPP) and conducted series of public engagement exercises aimed to explain the challenges to the general public and harvest opinions and views to formulate strategies and specific measures to counter the problems of the silver tsunami. Also, the government has allotted HK$ 200B budget to refurnish the hospital system to accommodate the projected influx of patients in the coming years.

And while the solutions have not trickled down to the grassroot levels, Kwong Yee, in the meantime, reaps the fruit of his hard labor before through pension from the government while the nameless man on Sham Shui Po will continue to dig trash bins every day to survive.

 

 

Sources of data (all retrieved 26 September 2016):

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/1901011/government-pledges-hk200bn-developments-public-hospitals

http://feedinghk.org/hunger-stats/

http://www.hkeconomy.gov.hk/en/pdf/box-13q3-5-1.pdf

http://www.legco.gov.hk/research-publications/english/1415in07-population-profile-of-hong-kong-20150416-e.pdf

http://journal.hkpaa.org.hk/index.php/paap-journal/spring-2014/doc_download/78-financing-health-care-and-long-term-care-in-a-rapidly-ageing-context-assessing-hong-kong-s-readiness