New property tax crucial

Updated: 2014-02-20 07:38

(HK Edition)

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New property tax crucial

The government's new tax proposals to dampen demand for Hong Kong properties by speculators and overseas buyers faced resistance from pro-business factions and opposition politicians on Wednesday in the Legislative Council.

The government argues the taxes are important to stabilize property prices, which have risen to unaffordable levels for many Hong Kong people. Several studies show the average middle-class family spends as much as half their total household income buying a home.

It is, therefore, hard to understand the rationale of opponents to these taxes.

Of course, it is expected to take months for the effect of the new taxes to be felt on the market. But the government appears confident they will work.

Escalating property prices, leading to a surge in rentals, have been widely attributed to the flood of buying by overseas investors and speculators. This influx of investment funds has, in turn, encouraged local speculators to hoard apartments to wait for further price hikes.

As a longer-term solution, the government has proposed increasing the supply of housing by 210,000 residential units over the next five years. In his policy speech in January, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that site development for more housing is a 30-year plan. He said the goal is to house every Hong Kong person.

Meanwhile, the government has introduced measures to dampen speculation, including the Special Stamp Duty on sale of a property within two years of purchase. In 2013, it proposed raising the rate of tax on property transactions.

Technicalities aside, political observers said they expect the new property tax bill will eventually pass in the Legislative Council after the debate. A vote may be taken as early as Thursday.

Failing to pass the tax bill for technical reasons will not only be humiliating for the government, it will be a setback in its efforts to combat escalating property prices. It should be clear to lawmakers that an issue of great public interest is at stake here.

For that reason, any action to block or delay the passing of the bill must be seen as irrational and irresponsible.

(HK Edition 02/20/2014 page1)