150 invited guests attend closed-door forum as government relaunches strategy on tax backing Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen last night claimed initial success over the controversial proposed sales tax after securing consensus in a closed-door session with about 150 invited community leaders and guests from the New Territories. Most of those attending the 90-minute discussion, held at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, agreed it was the right time to discuss broadening the tax base, according to Mr Tang. The rare support came after a relaunch of the government's strategy of rallying public backing for the proposed new tax, which has drawn fierce criticism since the idea was released for consultation in July. Critics say the new tax 'robs the poor to feed the rich'. Last night's forum was the first of four to be held, with the other three planned for New Territories West, Hong Kong Island, and Kowloon. The government said those it invited to attend included district councillors, district Fight Crime Committee members, Fire Safety Committee members, and representatives of various local organisations. The media was asked to leave after Mr Tang's opening address, in which he reiterated the need for broadening the tax base to secure a stable source of revenue to help the government cope with the ageing population and ever-increasing education, medical, welfare and public order spending. In defending the decision to hold the forum behind closed doors, Mr Tang said: 'I believe the voices of the local community have been properly represented. 'If we open it to all members of the public, it will be very difficult to anticipate the attendance and will pose some difficulties in the preparation of a proper venue. 'We think it is a good arrangement and, therefore, for the remaining three forums, we shall follow the same arrangements.' Mr Tang said he heard many valuable views at the forum. 'The general view was that the participants agreed it was the right time to discuss broadening the tax base, and that it was also in the right direction,' he said. He added that he was aware of some concerns about the impact of the sales tax on lower-income families but challenged his critics to offer better options. Under the government's plan, an annual allowance of HK$5,500 would be offered to each eligible needy family. After the meeting, one participant said he supported the sales tax. 'It is good for Hong Kong. As citizens, people should contribute,' he said, adding that he did not feel a sales tax would seriously affect families. Before the forum, about 50 protesters from four pressure groups and political parties staged a rally outside the venue. Democrat Gary Fan Kwok-wai criticised the government for 'turning a deaf ear to public views', instead hiding behind closed doors to talk to a few people, with nobody knowing how the participants had been selected.