Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 February, 2010, 12:00am


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Don't pin your hopes on a daring budget

Does John Tsang Chun-wah dare go where no financial secretary has gone before? It would require having the guts to stare down Hong Kong's powerful vested interests. Dare he? Or will he remain the obedient bureaucrat who bows to big business? We shall know today when he delivers his third budget speech. Public Eye is not expecting him to dazzle us all with his daring, so don't hold your breath. You'll only suffocate. In fact, we're sure he won't be making any waves. He'll devote much of his speech to saying how much the government has done for the people. Our bureaucrats love living in their dream world of self-importance. He'll then throw out a few crumbs - the Hong Kong media calls them sweets - to feed the needy. Sweets taste good but they don't last long. That's why the people keep coming back for more. It's a good way for bureaucrats to control the masses. Keep them poor and hooked on government handouts. Whenever they get restless, the government can throw them a few more sweets. But the people now want to be weaned off sweets. They want the government to lift them out of perpetual poverty. That takes guts, a word our bureaucrats are unfamiliar with. So don't expect to see daring on display today. Don't expect the financial secretary to tell you he will no longer tolerate the shame that prosperous Hong Kong has over 1 million people living in poverty. Don't expect him to say it's a disgrace we have half a million people earning less than HK$5,000 a month. Don't expect him to finally do something about the thousands of elderly people who can only afford to live in caged bed spaces. Don't expect bold moves to fight sky-high property prices which have already filtered from the luxury to the mass market, making homes unaffordable even for the middle class. Don't expect him to confront our powerful property developers by restarting the Home Ownership Scheme, which provides flats for those who can't afford the preposterous private-sector prices. And don't expect outrage from him that we have the worst rich-poor gap in the world. You can forget about him telling you how he intends to narrow this gap. Doing all these things requires a sea change in the way Hong Kong is governed. It requires taking on the tycoons. It requires breaking up the cartel of our big-time property developers who dictate prices. It requires telling the business lobby to shut up and start paying a fair minimum wage. It requires guts. That's why our financial secretary prefers to hand out sweets instead to mollify the masses.

Shunning the Robin Hood approach

Our top leaders love to boast about 'big markets, small government'. John Tsang might even repeat that tired old phrase today. It assumes that businesses will thrive under a hands-off government, allowing wealth to trickle down to the masses. The trouble is wealth isn't trickling down. The people at the top are pocketing it all. This is forcing the government to 'return wealth' to the people through 'sweets' and welfare. There is another way to make wealth distribution fairer - imposing higher taxes on the wealthy. That's robbing from the rich to give to the poor. It takes a Robin Hood, but our bureaucrats are more comfortable working for the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Further proof that they're all in it together

Do you know why the Sun Hung Kai bosses didn't even flinch at paying HK$3.37 billion for a Tseung Kwan O residential site just two days before the budget, which could include measures to cool the property market? They didn't flinch because they knew the financial secretary wouldn't dare do anything drastic. The astronomical price paid means Tseung Kwan O property prices will now skyrocket. But that didn't bother the auctioneer, deputy lands director Graham Ross. He was ecstatic the government netted HK$3.37 billion. As Public Eye has told you before, they're all in it together to sucker the little people.