My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 4:02am

Finance chief John Tsang clueless when it comes to budget forecasts

BIO

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.
 

If finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah disagrees so deeply with his boss, he should do the honorable thing and resign. But instead, he has made snide remarks about the new anti-poverty funding committed in Leung Chun-ying's latest policy address, and sent one of his lackeys to speak off record to the media to distance himself from Leung ahead of his budget release next month. Talk about gutless!

You may or may not agree with Leung's programmes for the poor and grass roots, which is expected to add between HK$10 billion and HK$20 billion a year to the government's annual spending. But it's hard to take Tsang's warnings seriously other than as a pitiable attempt to ride a middle-class backlash against the poor. He claims in his blog we may be able to afford the extra spending on welfare now, but that it won't be the case for long.

"The day when the budget turns into deficit and fiscal reserves are used up will not be in the distant future," he wrote, "though not while the current administration is still in office. I will spare no effort to maintain a budget surplus in my remaining term to save more and fight for more time to tackle these structural problems."

Since his appointment in 2007, Tsang has never managed to produce a single accurate budget forecast. If he can't do it from year to year, it's really pointless for him to pontificate on what may happen fiscally after 2017, when Leung's current term ends. Here is a man who is singlehandedly most responsible for giving away depleting, one-off sweeteners like electricity-bill subsidies and HK$6,000 to every permanent resident, including our tycoons. Such handouts in the past five years add up to HK$200 billion, enough to cover 10 to 20 years of the new spending on low-income groups. But now, in off-record briefings, Tsang's lackey claims his boss "has all along disagreed with handing out too many one-off sweeteners". Really?

At least Leung has a target for helping the poor; Tsang's one-off sweeteners are nothing but wasteful. They show a man who has no idea how to run public finances other than the blind accumulation of surpluses, which now amount to a ridiculous HK$1.5 trillion, money that has been taken out of the economy for the proverbial rainy day.

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