Tung Chee-hwa yesterday dampened hopes that his proposed measures to stabilise the property market would make a difference in the short term. The chief executive defended government plans to help reverse the slide in prices, saying if they were allowed to drop further, both the finance and banking systems would be endangered and the economy damaged. Announcing that the rescue measures would be revealed soon, Mr Tung told Legco: 'Stabilising property prices, or even a slight rise, is a thing we really want to see. It is a good thing for Hong Kong as a whole.' While admitting that property and housing policies in the past had not always been successful, he said the new measures would not provide instant results. 'These would not take effect in . . . one or two months,' he said. Last month, he and Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung said the government would like to push prices up slightly. But the following day, Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung said the government could not perform market magic. Mr Tung said that if property prices were allowed to drop further, people's willingness to spend would decline and the finance system would also be damaged. He said that as the government was the biggest land owner, it could control the supply and demand of flats. Asked if the delay in announcing concrete rescue measures was due to pressure from property developers, Mr Tung said: 'Whatever we do, we do it for the general public. We will not consider the developers. 'It is not acceptable for the economy if it continues to drop.' Mr Tung said also that tackling economic problems would be the government's biggest challenge in the next five years. Faced with deflation, a weak economy and high unemployment, he said that the SAR should use its strengths to face the challenges. 'We are miserable because of the harm done by deflation,' he said, adding that the budget deficit would be reduced when the economy picks up. He told legislators Hong Kong should strengthen integration with the Pearl River Delta region and protect its status as an international finance and trade hub. He said the government had assessed the potential damage to the economy if the US waged war on Iraq, saying he hoped the impact would be minimal. On the 7.6 per cent unemployment rate, he admitted that measures to create jobs had not taken effect. 'Many problems might not be solved instantly,' he said. Executive councillor and Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun said people should not expect property prices to rise immediately when the government releases its measures. Mr Tien, who declined to say whether Exco had discussed the measures, said the government could control land supply or the sale of flats as a key way of stabilising prices. On the budget deficit, he said the business sector was prepared to pay more taxes if the government still faced a serious deficit after exhausting spending cuts, but he also said it should look into cutting civil service pay further. Another Exco member, Tsang Yok-sing, the chairman of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, said the government needed to clarify its property market policy. 'One official comes out to say something and then the other official comes out to say another thing. The message is very confusing,' Mr Tsang said.