The $600 billion infrastructure projects to transform the SAR into Asia's 'world city' are still affordable despite the chronic deficit, a senior government official claims. Deputy Secretary for Treasury Elizabeth Tse Man-yee yesterday stressed only half of the remaining bill would be drawn from public coffers, averaging about $30 billion each year. The blueprint to improve the SAR's infrastructure over the next 10 to 15 years, including a facelift for the Victoria Harbour waterfront, was outlined by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa last week. But the ambitious plan was immediately overshadowed by a government taskforce's report on the deficit forecast, which warned the $369 billion reserves would be drained away in seven years if no new taxes or savings were introduced. Speaking at RTHK's City Forum, Ms Tse sought to play down the impression that the Government was being extravagant. She said that railway operators would shoulder one-third of the bill. Of the $400 billion sum to be borne by taxpayers, $100 billion has already been drawn from the Treasury. The spending on infrastructure would only amount to $25 billion to $30 billion each year, which is roughly 10 per cent of annual government expenditure, she argued. 'We think we could afford this. But we have to spend every cent in a cost-effective way.' Although most speakers agreed that investing in infrastructure would help stimulate the ailing economy, Legco surveying representative Lau Ping-cheung warned that Government red tape had stalled the progress of other projects. Assistant Director of Planning Lee Tak-keung rejected claims that construction had been slow, but admitted the process could be further streamlined. He said the time taken to complete projects could be tightened from six to four years under proposals to shorten statutory planning consultations. He stressed the building projects were essential to improve people's quality of life and to turn Hong Kong into Asia's 'world city'. With the budget deficit expected to reach $66 billion this year, Li Kui-wai, a City University economics and finance associate professor, urged the Government to cut spending by $10 billion to $20 billion and to cover the rest of the gap by issuing bonds. 'In the meantime, the Government could prepare for measures to broaden the tax base pending a full economic recovery,' Professor Li said.