Civil service 'not to blame'
The civil service should not be blamed for the structural deficit, unions said yesterday.
Cecilia So Chui-kuen, president of the Chinese Civil Servants' Association, said the Government had been unfair in claiming that expenditure on the civil service accounted for 68 per cent of operating expenditure.
'The percentage also covers the subvented groups,' she said. 'It should not point an accusing finger at us.'
Federation of Civil Service Unions chairman Leung Chau-ting said he was worried the Government would use the deficit as an excuse to speed up cutting the civil service.
'It seems downsizing is something they will do. No matter what, low-ranking civil servant must not be the only target. Senior officials should also bear some of the pain,' he said.
Cheung Kwok-biu, chairman of the Hong Kong Civil Servants' General Union, said the Government was too pessimistic. 'The economy is going to pick up.'
Social workers and academics also warned against cuts, claiming they could compromise the quality of services. Recurrent spending on social welfare grew by 61 per cent between 1996-97 and this year, according to draft estimates.
Social scientist Dr Wong Hung, of City University's department of social studies, said: 'The underprivileged are usually the easy target [of funding cuts] because, unlike the tycoons, they have no political influence.'
Welfare worker Ho Hei-wah, a spokesman for the Coalition of People's Livelihood Groups, said there was no room to cut spending on social welfare. 'With worsening unemployment, more people will have to rely on public assistance,' he said, referring to the record jobless rate.