Macleod's final surplus set to top record $22.5b

Fanny Wong

HONGKONG is heading for another record surplus, with final calculations set to be even bigger than last year's $22.5 billion.

The Financial Secretary, Mr Hamish Macleod, is ready to announce a surplus of close to $20 billion in his March 3 Budget speech, based on figures for the first three quarters of the financial year.

But the finalised accounts for 1992-93, to be published in about June, may see the windfall boosted to a record level by a late flood of profits tax, land revenue and stamp duties.

These taxes traditionally force major revisions of the year's financial outcome, particularly in recent years blessed with a booming economy.

A key factor affecting the stock market's performance, and therefore the final financial benefit to the Government, will be the protracted Sino-British row over the constitutional package put forward by the Governor, Mr Chris Patten.

Mr Macleod is understood to be engineering a budget for next year under which the bulk of the surplus will be spent on one-off, non-recurrent items.

On Mr Macleod's spending list are a housing subsidy for the sandwich class, a heavier commitment to the multi-billion-dollar sewage strategy and improved welfare services, as well as a greater contribution to airport projects.

The housing scheme is expected to eat up about $2 billion.

Officials are also prepared to channel more funds into the $17.8 billion sewage scheme, a cornerstone of Mr Patten's pledges on the environment in his October 7 policy speech.

He committed the Government to spending not less than $3 billion from its Capital Investment Fund to enable the overall strategy to get off the ground quickly.

The remaining costs were to be shouldered by the community in the form of sewage charges.

In his policy speech, Mr Patten also pledged a one-off cash injection of $2.3 billion into the Lotteries Fund to improve the territory's welfare services.

The undertaking will be reaffirmed by Mr Macleod in his speech in a fortnight's time.

Of the four main factors affecting the surplus figure, it is understood recurrent expenditure will come in close to the original estimate of $82 billion.

But revenue is understood to have greatly exceeded the original estimate of $113.6 billion, thanks to the hectic activities in the stock market and good profits made by Hongkong companies.

Although the property market has quietened down over the past few months, stamp duties collected have continued to build on big proceeds registered in the first quarter of the financial year.

Capital income, mainly land revenue, is expected to greatly exceed the original estimate of $14.1 billion, with conservative estimates pointing to a rise of more than 20 per cent.

A major problem for projecting the surplus this time is capital expenditure, with serious under-spending occurring in capital works projects, especially non-airport core programme projects.

In a last-ditch effort to reduce the effect of under-spending, officials are hoping they have been able to make more payments in the past few months.