Schoolgirl dares to cross the line at budget forum

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah may well have heaved a sigh of relief after being spared tough questions at a budget forum for young people yesterday … if it hadn't been for one cheeky schoolgirl.

Tsang took 20 questions, many of which were about his plan to award scholarships to 20 students every year to study at universities overseas, and the city's record of underestimating expenditure which has led to years of budget surpluses.

Tsang, who has been in office since 2007, appeared well prepared with figures aplenty.

Government spending on recurrent expenditure for education for 2013-14 is about HK$63 billion, roughly one fifth of total government recurrent expenditure of $290 billion.

He also had an excuse ready on surpluses: it was not easy to come up with accurate estimates more than a year in advance.

Then there was the one schoolgirl who decided to poke fun at Tsang's claim that he is middle-class because he enjoys coffee and French movies.

She questioned whether the city did not just need its planned poverty line - the minimum income threshold. A middle-class line would help better understand the problems of middle-class people in Hong Kong.

"For the poor, the government will have a poverty line. Is the government also going to make a middle-class line?" she asked.

An embarrassed Tsang conceded his remarks had sparked "a lot of discussion in the society" but argued: "I was born in a middle-class family and know many middle-class friends. I believe I understand their situation."

And he was quick to add: "Perhaps, for students, I think you should concentrate more on your studies."

He was apparently caught off guard as well when asked about his health. Tsang, who underwent emergency heart surgery in 2009, paused a while before replying: "Well, well, thank you for the kind consideration.

"I think we have very good doctors in Hong Kong. I have already forgotten the [heart] problem. I am living an active life. I still coach the fencing team at La Salle College every Saturday." Tsang is a former pupil of the Catholic boys' school in Kowloon.

The one-hour forum, organised by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, drew 260 students from 30 secondary schools. It was also broadcast online and net users could submit questions.

Some students took the opportunity to complain about the condition of their school buildings and asked him to help.

Tsang passed the buck and said he would refer the question to the "relevant bureau chief".