Head offers class a tuck shop feast

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 1994, 12:00am

CLASS was generally well-behaved during their Budget lecture yesterday. There was the inevitable fidgeting, shuffling of feet, clock-watching and searching for windows to stare out of but, on the whole, most were attentive.

As Sir Hamish listed the economic achievements of the past year and the prospects ahead, pencils were dutifully sucked, notes taken and pensive looks adopted by the majority.

Sir Hamish himself maintained a dignified, measured and headmasterly tone as he delivered his one-hour and 41-minute speech on the state of the territory's coffers and next year's shopping and policy list.

But it was not for 50 minutes, when he got on to matters that directly affected the dollar in the pocket, that expressions took on a more enlivened appearance.

Sir Hamish took a sip of water and then spoke the two magic words ''salaries tax''.

This elicited a corporate leaning forward that possessed the choreography of a Mexican wave. With controlled jubilation, our pursemaster general announced that about a 12th of the population were being taken out of the tax net entirely. Among other widely beneficial reforms, corporate tax and stamp duties were to be mauled.

There are countries where such news would have been honey to the ears of their downtrodden people and governments alike. But this is Hong Kong and the move was met with mute, nodded approval.

But then had not Sir Hamish prefaced his speech by noting that Hong Kong is one of the richest and most sophisticated societies in the world? It does not get excited easily about money matters unless personal profit is at stake.

Moreover, he said, entire generations have grown up in the territory not knowing anything other than year after year of successive growth. Anything less would have been miserly.

However, this turned out to be the warm-up. What caused the biggest intake of delighted breath was the announcement that airport tax was to be slashed to a third of its present level. Suddenly, there was talking in class. With an extra $100 in every traveller's pocket, surely the tuck shop's profits would soar? Sir Hamish restored the solemnity of the occasion with a lecture on the evils of smoking. Smuggling was rife, so any increase in cigarette duty would simply encourage more illicit trade. The way forward was to spend more money on anti-smuggling measures.Henceforth, the bicycle sheds would be patrolled. One hopes the prefects also catch the drink smugglers who are likely to be encouraged by the new alcohol duties.

And as for those who dodged their school dues, they too had better watch out. The rules were to be amended to better catch tax evaders and avoiders. And the penalties would be more than just detention.