A Hong Kong business titan has backed fellow tycoon Peter Lee Ka-kit's call for "independent" opinion polls to counter "unpatriotic" surveys by the University of Hong Kong.
New World chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun, a colleague of Lee on the standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said in Beijing yesterday: "If people other [than HKU] would like to do it, it can help [the government] understand people's thinking."
However, Cheng, who backed Leung Chun-ying in the chief executive poll in 2012, also criticised his government for doing too little to help the poor.
Cheng slammed Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah for warning in his budget speech last month about a structural deficit in a decade's time, when the government sits on fiscal reserves of more than HK$700 billion.
"Tsang was estimating that in one or two decades' time, we could be exhausting our reserves and facing a structural deficit. Where did that [projection] come from? I am really scratching my head," he said. "How come he is so smart to project that? Do we know what Hong Kong will be like in 10 years' time?"
On Tuesday, Lee - vice-chairman of billionaire Lee Shau-kee's Henderson Land Development - told state leaders that the pro-government camp in Hong Kong should set up its own organisation to conduct public opinion polls because "the opposition camp has been manipulating public opinion [using HKU's public opinion programme]".
Cheng agreed: "We know on which side [HKU chief pollster Dr Robert] Chung Ting-yiu stands, and when he conducts polls, they are biased towards one side."
A spokesman for the university could not be reached by press time last night.
In response to Lee's call, education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen asked the Hong Kong government to reiterate the value of academic freedom as promised in the Basic Law. He also asked politicians to "modestly listen to the views of the public" and be cautious about potential interference with academic freedom.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor responded to Lee's comments by praising the findings of opinion polls as useful to the governance of the city.
Cheng said independent polls could alert officials to improvements they had to make, suggesting social welfare was a key area to be addressed. He also reiterated his idea that the government spend half of its reserves on a five-year plan to boost services such as medical care, housing and care for the elderly.