Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah was grilled on Thursday morning for doing “too little” to alleviate the needs of the lower and middle classes after unveiling his sixth budget a day earlier.
Speaking on a radio programme, Tsang emphasised that his first budget under the Leung Chun-ying government “balanced different needs”.
“New thinking is not the first thing on my mind when I was preparing this budget,” he said. “My first consideration is quality – whether we could make effective use of our limited resources to help the needy, and pave the way for our society’s future. I think my budget has met these objectives.”
However, callers – including many who identified themselves as low-income – criticised Tsang for doing too little.
"Budget sweeteners no real relief to the working poor", Video by Hedy Bok
“Have you understood the needs of the poor?” asked a father of two, who identified himself only by the last name Chan. “Everything has become more expensive since the minimum wage [law], and of course, you have no idea about [prices] … Could you consider raising school textbook assistance rates, and providing subsidies for buying [educational] tools?”
Tsang responded that the administration could consider boosting the subsidy.
The financial secretary pointed to the 15.6 per cent increase in total public expenditure as evidence that the government was concerned about the society’s needs.
The government will be spending more than 60 per cent of its money on areas such as welfare, medical services and education.
On Wednesday, Tsang said he “understands the middle class, because I am also middle class”, raising questions about the definition of the term. Critics note Tsang earns more than HK$300,000 a month.
But Tsang defended himself, saying “I think it may not be necessary to set a limit on the salary [when defining what is middle class], in fact it is a lifestyle … I have read articles which say the middle class are those [people] who drink coffee and like French movies – I like movies and tea, so there’s not much difference [between mine] and middle-class lives.”
"Why middle class benefits little from budget relief", Video by Hedy Bok
Tsang added that he grew up in a middle-class family, and still hangs out with people from the middle class.
The financial chief also restated that advisory bodies have been studying retirement protection, free kindergarten education, among other matters, and they will submit proposals to the government in due course.
On a caller’s suggestion to drop Hong Kong’s currency peg to the US dollar to curb inflation, Tsang reiterated that there was neither need nor intention from the government to do so.