Still waiting for budget U-turn explanation
Every year, there is a two-month delay between the delivery of the budget and the passing of the Appropriation Bill, during which lawmakers and other interested parties can go through the voluminous folders of calculations, estimates and economic analyses that make up the foundations of a budget. Following such scrutiny, even critics can rest assured that while there may be differences in opinion over the overall direction, at least the government has done its homework and that the hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent in a considered and careful fashion.
But since its delivery in February, this year's budget has been defined by knee-jerk reactions and piecemeal initiatives. First, the public was told there was no room for changes to the original budget and that direct handouts would lead to inflation. Then the government proceeded to do exactly that and hand out at least an extra HK$40 billion, with every permanent resident - and perhaps some non-permanent residents, too - over 18 receiving HK$6,000. It is tempting to say the rule book has been torn up and rewritten, but that would be wishful thinking. The rule book has been torn up. But nothing has been written to take its place.
On Wednesday, the new budget could be subject to a final vote, but neither the public nor the lawmakers have been given a comprehensive explanation for the U-turn. It is still unclear who will be eligible for the handouts, how many people in total will receive handouts, when those people might be able to access the money and how they will access the money. There is no supplementary budget booklet to explain why the government can now afford to give out tens of billions when previously it said it could not. Who did the government consult about the U-turn? What was the advice of those pro-government lawmakers that was so persuasive to reverse such a major policy decision? All the indications suggest this revised budget is based on political calculations and not economic ones. The public can only hope that the government has the economic data on hand on Wednesday to refute such an allegation.