Financial secretary cannot solve all social issues with one budget
In the face of the recent public fury over his budget proposals, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah eventually made dramatic changes to them, agreeing to make an unprecedented cash handout of HK$6,000 to all permanent residents aged 18 or above.
In addition, all taxpayers will get a tax rebate of up to 75 per cent, capped at HK$6,000.
Some critics dismissed such moves as 'yet another political defeat of our lame-duck government'; others even described it as 'a reckless departure from our proven tradition in public finance that has helped shape the success of Hong Kong'.
I agree that some of those critics might have a point in their arguments, and I also agree the budget itself did fail to address some long-term, fundamental issues.
However, the fact that Mr Tsang was willing to introduce some fundamental amendments to the budget after he had heard the views from a number of lawmakers, including myself, is, I believe, a remarkable illustration of his receptiveness to public opinion and his willingness to adjust his policy according to changing public needs, and we should therefore welcome it. Suffice it to say the way he amended the budget was not so much an act of succumbing to political pressure as a timely initiative to find common ground among society over important public issues.
According to a recent poll conducted by my group (Professional Forum), up to 57.7 per cent of respondents expressed satisfaction over the budget after its amendment.
Nonetheless, it doesn't necessarily mean that I am totally happy with the budget. In fact, I strongly maintain that it could have done a lot better in terms of addressing long-term issues. However, while there remains a lot of room for improvement, I would still give a pass to this year's budget.
I understand it is quite unrealistic to expect the financial secretary alone to come up with solutions for every social issue within a single budget, nor is it fair to place all responsibility for reform on his shoulders. Instead, to really get to the root of many of the problems that are facing us, it requires a sustained and concerted effort among various government departments in the long run.
For example, it is clear that a consensus has already been reached among the public over the introduction of 15 years of free education and the expansion of medical welfare benefits for the elderly, and apparently the ball is now in the government's court.
The government must make sure as many voices are heard as possible. Therefore, it is always crucial for officials to engage both the stakeholders, such as taxpayers, the business community and the grass roots, as well as the beneficiaries in the process of policy formulation (as it did over the minimum wage legislation), in order to find an equilibrium amongst all sectors and all the different interest groups on major policy issues.
Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, Legislative Councillor