Billionaires buoyed by govt subsidies

08:37, November 01, 2010      

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Ma Huateng

The founder of one of China's largest news portals and a high ranker on Forbes' China rich list has been revealed to be receiving government housing subsidies in the southern city of Shenzhen, stirring controversy over the use of taxpayers' money.

Ma Huateng, chairman of Hong Kong-listed Tencent, which owns, is among the beneficiaries of official housing subsidies and has been granted 3,100 yuan ($450) a month since July, despite the fact that Forbes estimates his wealth at $4.4 billion.

Ma was recognized by the Shenzhen city government as a "local leading talent," a title that will earn him 186,000 yuan ($27,796) in subsidies over the next five years.

Since July, a total of 684 people with a range of backgrounds from academia to business have been entitled to government subsidies to purchase or rent apartments in Shenzhen, according to the Shenzhen Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security.

"The housing-subsidy policy aims to attract talent to Shenzhen and make them stay. The city has lost its competitive edge to other cities such as Bei-jing and Shanghai," a bureau official surnamed Liu told the Global Times Thursday.

The subsidy program started in 2008 in Shenzhen, and by early this year more than 2,900 people who were believed to have made contributions to the coastal city's boom had benefited. One-third of the people on the latest subsidy list are in the business circle.

Of the beneficiaries, those deemed to be "national leading talent," mostly academics, will receive a total of 1.5 million yuan ($224,280) in housing subsidies over the next five years.

Tencent said it respected the policy to attract high-end talent by the Shenzhen government but made no further comments.

The public, especially the online community, has expressed shock at the news, arguing that rich businessmen such as Ma do not need government subsidies and that the policy runs counter to the spirit of social equality.

With soaring property prices and fierce competition over human resources globally, the local government in Shenzhen was on the defensive, saying it promoted the package, including housing subsidies, benefits for spouses and children and research funds, in order to attract more talent to the region.

Jason Wong, a headhunter in Beijing, confirmed the thirst for talent. "My major clients are shifting from foreign companies to Chinese ones. But with leading-edge companies clustered in Beijing and Shanghai, Shenzhen has gradually lost its upper hand in the competition for human resources."

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