Since taking office less than 18 months ago, Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung has added a touch of dash to Hong Kong politics. He has not, however, made much impact on substantive matters of government: most particularly, on a ballooning budget deficit apparently fast draining the SAR piggy bank. By his own reckoning, Mr Leung will by March preside over a HK$60 billion annual hole in the government accounts. At his budget speech last year he pledged to wipe out the deficit in five years. His commitment was long on rhetoric and short on detail. This is shaping up as the year of tough decisions. Financial markets have given the debonair Mr Leung the benefit of the doubt. A career banker who talks their language, the question has been asked and answers are awaited. Last month, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa signalled a willingness to rein in public expenditure, with headline cuts of up to HK$20 billion. That will involve tackling the SAR's vociferous pressure groups, with Mr Leung the executor of big spending reductions. Civil servants rank highest on the list and a showdown over a dramatic reduction in their numbers and pay could be the make-or-break test. Little in his career indicates a willingness to swing the axe, but, with Beijing clearly irritated at Hong Kong's vacillating and Mr Leung a man of considerable political ambition, valour could yet displace his usual discretion. Inevitably, much turns on the state of the economy. An export-led recovery, filtering into improved domestic demand, could delay the day of reckoning. Hong Kong Inc remains immensely rich, with vast unrealised assets and revenues highly sensitive to a swing in the economic cycle. That leaves Mr Leung with the hope-and-a-prayer approach to fixing his fiscal mess. Should the property market recover and normal transaction-based revenue flow again as in the 1990s, harsh decisions could be delayed. The bigger question for this possible successor to Mr Tung is what kind of economy he wants to preside over. Thus far, he has not strayed from the role of colonial-era bookkeeper. He has flirted with a more interventionist approach but has not voiced a strategy much beyond slogans. Public attention will be on Mr Leung's March budget address and the hard numbers he presents. More challenging will be his use of control over the public purse to effect change in Hong Kong's rich but dysfunctional economy.