The Government has sidestepped allegations by small listed companies that Hong Kong's business scene is tilted in favour of big business. Instead of responding to the allegations, Director-General of Trade Joshua Law Chi-kwong yesterday only reiterated Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's pledge to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In a full-page advertisement printed yesterday in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, a group of shareholders claiming it represented 'chairmen, directors and investors' of 23 SMEs, said there was some truth to a recent European Parliament report that raised concern about the influence of tycoons in Hong Kong, especially the dominance of Li Ka-shing. The shareholders pointed to such examples as the rights granted to Richard Li Tzar-kai - the senior Li's younger son - to develop the Cyberport project without a public tender and the exemptions granted to Mr Li Snr's Internet venture, Tom.com. 'We do not believe Mr Li [Snr] will pro-actively ask the Government to give preference [for his businesses],' the shareholders said. However, 'we do not rule out a big possibility that Government and some related people will voluntarily give preference in order to gain the prominent tycoon's favour'. The group's identity was not stated, but Chan King-cheung, managing editor at the Hong Kong Economic Journal, said the paper verified the shareholders' relationships to the companies before running the ad. The ad questioned why the Government spent HK$120 billion to buy only blue-chip shares in its 1998 defence of the currency. 'There are more than 700 companies listed in Hong Kong, among them only 33 are Hang Seng Index [HSI] constituent stocks,' they pointed out. The shareholders asked the Government to invest the same amount of money in the shares of SMEs. However, the ad failed to mention the overwhelming weight of blue chips in the market. The HSI's 33 constituent stocks had a combined capitalisation of HK$3.59 trillion yesterday, or more than 80 per cent of the market's total capitalisation. Nor did the ad explain clearly the events two years ago that led to the Government's intervention in the market and its purchase of shares in a successful bid to prevent a confidence crisis among investors. Mr Law declined to comment on the group's demand for direct aid for SMEs, but he said 'it has always not been our policy to give direct financial help'.