Financial Secretary Paul Chan has denied that he had failed to listen to public calls for cash handouts, despite reporting a record surplus in Wednesday’s annual budget.
Chan said around 40 per cent of the HK$138 billion surplus would be given back to the public in different ways. For instance, citizens who benefit from the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance will receive two months worth of subsidies.
“With this, we can give back to those in need in accordance with their specific needs. We feel this is more appropriate,” he told reporters after delivering the budget at the legislature. “We have considered external economic situations, and the public’s expectations.”
HK$14 billion will be spent in education and HK$500 million will be spent in developing sports, Chan said.
Asked if he would consider conducting cash handouts during his five-year term, Chan said he will decide in accordance with the situation each year. In his budget, Chan estimated that there will be a HK$46.6 billion surplus next year.
Of the HK$50 billion to be given to the public, around HK$40 billion will benefit the middle class.
Asked if he ignored the needs of the poor, Chan said: “Other than taking care of the grassroots, we have to relieve the pressure on the middle class – I believe this is a balanced plan.”
Last year, Chan estimated that there would be a HK$16.3 billion surplus. The current surplus was HK$120 billion more than the expected – one of the most inaccurate estimates yet.
“I accept the public’s criticism. My team and I have tried hard,” Chan said. “In the past year, the increase in land prices was higher than we expected. Private housing supply… was also higher than expected.”
He also said the tax income from trading in the stock market was also unexpectedly high, but it was not the right time to consider measures to broaden the tax base.
The budget did not include many new measures to tackle housing issues. Chan said the government has to take a holistic view on land issues.
“It is not the right time for us to announce anything,” he said. “But let me assure you that this has never escaped our attention.”
The budget said that the government “should consider increasing imported labour in a timely manner and on an appropriate scale to address the specific needs of individual sectors.”
Asked why did he include it in the budget – usually a topic to be mentioned in the chief executive’s policy address – Chan said the issue of inadequate labour cannot be avoided.
The budget mentioned the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area 13 times. Chan said Hong Kong must grasp development opportunities in the mainland.
Meanwhile, a total of HK$310 million will be given over the next few years to support Ocean Park in developing education and tourism projects. Students will also receive 10,000 complimentary admission tickets.
Asked why the funds were given to Ocean Park instead of Hong Kong Disneyland, Chan said there is room for Ocean Park to improve its facilities and services, and the government had previously injected funds for Disneyland’s expansion.
Chan said the government has no intention to make the waiving of the examination fees for students sitting the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination permanent.