Tang failed to disclose opposition to wine tax

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2005, 12:00am

His budget speech disregarded the findings of a public consultation

Hong Kong's high tariffs on wine and spirits were left unchanged in this year's budget after the financial secretary implied a public consultation supported the levies.

But the South China Morning Post has learned that two-thirds of the public's submissions wanted the tariffs reduced.

According to unpublished results of the consultation, which ended in February, only a third of respondents said they were happy with the status quo or wanted the tax raised.

However, in his budget speech in March, Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said: 'After taking into account the divergent views of the public, I have decided to maintain the status quo for now.'

The budget speech gave no reference to the number of responses received, nor how many wanted a lower tax - which poured $820 million into the government's coffers in the last financial year.

The budget retained the existing 100 per cent duty on spirits, 80 per cent on wine and 40 per cent on beer.

The Post has learned the government had intended to keep the results of the consultation unpublished, even though such information is normally made available to the public.

After repeated requests to the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, more detailed results of the consultation were made available to the Post.

They showed 63 submissions were received from wine traders, consulates, chambers of commerce, members of the public and political parties. Sixty were in favour of retaining wine duty, but two-thirds wanted it reduced.

The government denied hiding the results from the public, saying Mr Tang's budget speech referring to it was sufficient.

'There was no clear consensus among the community to reduce the level of duty,' a government statement said. 'Therefore, the government has decided to maintain the status quo for now.'

Legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee accused the government of misleading legislators by not presenting the full consultation results to the Legislative Council. 'You can't just pick and choose the results you show,' she said.

'[The government] has to make clear the methodology of public consultations and has to explain the methods of analysis used for the results. Otherwise, it means nothing.'

Chan Kin-man, an associate professor of sociology at Chinese University, said the government often used public consultations to back decisions already made.

'They will very often use public consultation as a means to justify their decisions, and might twist the results of the public consultation,' he said.