Finance chief issues HK budget warning over ‘finite’ resources as lawmakers call for cash handout

25-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s finance minister said not all wishes would be granted in his upcoming budget, as pro-establishment lawmaker maintained calls for a universal cash handout amid increased unemployment rates and the coronavirus epidemic.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said he had finalised the government’s latest budget plan, which is to be delivered in the Legislative Council next Wednesday.

“The government’s resources are finite, it is impossible for this budget to completely satisfy demands from everyone,” Chan said in a blog post released on Sunday morning.

Chan said some had described the upcoming budget as one of the hardest to compile yet.

He is expected to reveal the extent of the city’s first deficit in 15 years, after the economy suffered blows from the US-China trade war, anti-government protests, and an epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people worldwide.

On top of the government’s HK$30 billion virus-aid package for the health care sector, and some industries hit by the outbreak, Chan faces mounting pressure from all sides to provide a cash handout to all Hong Kong residents.

While Chan did not touch on the matter in his blog, he previously said factors such as whether the government could afford it, and whether the handout should be universal, had to be considered.

The government’s fiscal reserves stood at more than HK$1.1 trillion, while the latest unemployment rate is 3.4 per cent.

Separately, a pro-establishment lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference standing committee member Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, urged the government to give cash or vouchers to the public to boost consumption and support the economy.

Their calls were echoed by two Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong CEO Raymond Young Lap-moon, and commentator Simon Lee Chao-fu, during a televised debate on Saturday.

Chow said a deficit from the current financial year was no excuse not to give people HK$10,000 in cash.

“We are not saying [the government] should be in a long term deficit, but under today’s circumstances they should give a universal cash handout despite the deficit,” Chow said.

On Friday, pan-democrats tabled a non-binding motion in Legco urging the government to include a HK$10,000 cash handout in its HK$30 billion aid package.

The motion was voted down by Chow and other pro-government lawmakers who said it would delay passage of the funding application for the package.

Wu was not convinced a cash handout would inject vitality into the economy, and said some people may not spend the money.

He said some people suggested giving out vouchers and providing more help to companies to prevent redundancies, and added the government should act quickly.

“If it comes eight or 10 months later it will be a waste of air,” Wu said.

Young said designing a voucher scheme would be complicated. “If it will take months to come up with the vouchers, we might as well give cash as it will be faster,” he said.

Lee said the cash handout should be universal, and while lower-income families would be most in need of the money, those who did not need it could give it to charity.


Category: Hong Kong

Print This Post