Financial Secretary John Tsang defends his budget amid criticism

Financial Secretary argues government must be prudent andavoid extravagance, and hits back at critics who say fiscal plan lacks new ideas

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 5:14am


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Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah yesterday hit back at critics who said his budget last week was too conservative, warning that the next generation would suffer if he "spent extravagantly for the sake of applause".

He emphasised the 16 per cent increase in government spending over the next financial year, saying it was rare for a government anywhere to be lifting expenditure.

Tsang told the RTHK programme Hong Kong Letter that maintaining financial prudence was the first responsibility of the financial secretary.

"I must make sure taxpayers' money is used in the right way," he said. "If I spend the surplus extravagantly for the sake of applause, not only will our generation suffer - the next generation will have to suffer."

Wednesday's budget received a mixed reception. A university poll found that its approval and disapproval rating were both about 30 per cent. Tsang insisted he was "not disappointed" by criticism that the financial plan lacked "new ideas".

"New ideas are not my primary concern. It does not matter if our measures are old if they are able to help the needy and move the city forward," he said on another programme, Saturday Forum, on Commercial Radio.

While the budget included HK$33 billion in one-off relief measures, Tsang said the "main dish" was the roughly 16 per cent increase in government expenditure, which comprised an 11 per cent increase in recurring expenses. "It is a substantial increase in outlays. For social welfare alone, it is a 33 per cent rise," he said. "I believe the public will sense an improvement in public services."

Meanwhile, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said he hoped that 15 years of free education would be implemented within his five-year term, and that new scholarships unveiled in the budget were a measure to support the policy. In his budget, Tsang said HK$48 million would go on scholarships. Every year, the government will pay the overseas-study costs of 20 students who have chosen to work as teachers.

"We need quality teachers in early childhood education if we are to implement free education," said Ng.

Students studying English or early childhood education will receive priority in the scholarships' allocation, but some will go to those studying mathematics and liberal studies, he said.


"Budget sweeteners no real relief to the working poor", Video by Hedy Bok