Financial Secretary accused of making a hard sell on goods and services tax Educators and politicians have dismissed Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen's suggestion this week that a goods and services tax could pay for smaller classes and almost double the number of university places as an attempt to buy support for the unpopular proposal. Mr Tang on Monday said the controversial tax could provide sufficient funds to reduce primary and secondary school classes to 25 students and increase the provision of university places from 18 per cent to 35 per cent of eligible students. But legislators, who on Thursday voted through a motion stating Legco's opposition to the tax, accused him of pandering to popular concerns in an attempt to garner support for the unpopular policy. Civic Party legislator and a member of Legco's education panel, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said the government was trying to 'hide the lie' that GST was necessary. '[Mr Tang] is trying to salvage the GST situation,' she said. 'When the government launched the consultation, they said this was just an academic exercise and it was capital neutral. But now public opinion has rushed against GST, they say, 'Let's talk about how we would use the money.' You can't undertake consultation like that.' Ms Eu rejected Mr Tang's stance that a sales tax would be necessary to pay for reducing the size of classes, at a cost of HK$2.4 billion a year. 'The government exaggerates the cost of implementing small-class teaching,' she said. 'You don't need GST to pay for it.' Panel member Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said Mr Tang's proposal contradicted the position of the Education and Manpower Bureau, which he said was 'dead-set against' reducing class sizes across the board. 'Of course I would support smaller classes and more university places,' Dr Cheung said. 'But I can see that he [Mr Tang] is not serious about this proposal.' Education legislator and president of the Professional Teachers' Union, Cheung Man-kwong questioned how Mr Tang intended to go about increasing the number of university places, with the proposed budget of HK$8 billion a year. 'I do not think he understands the issues involved,' Mr Cheung said. 'I am opposed to GST and I don't see that a tactic such as this is likely to move my heart.' He said Mr Tang was 'too late' to sway public opinion with spending suggestions. The proposal met with equally little enthusiasm in the education sector. Tso Kai-lok, vice-chairman of Education Convergence, a concern group which advocates small-class teaching, said he felt Mr Tang's comments were 'just him talking' rather than concrete policy promises, due to the lack of response from the Secretary for Education and Manpower. 'Arthur Li Kwok-cheung has not made any effort in this direction, that I have seen, and he has made no specific response. 'But Mr Tang is suggesting small classes only on the condition of GST. GST and small classes are two different issues.' However, Mr Tso said he would not be opposed to a sales tax provided 'certain public services are exempt'. Shin Kei-lit, chairman of Sha Tin Primary School Heads' Association, said he would support any measure that would bring about a reduction in class sizes. 'I am in favour of GST anyway. This simply makes me support it all the more.' An EMB spokesman said the introduction of small-class teaching was an issue that went 'beyond resources'. 'Financial planning aside, the government's stated position is that a decision to implement small classes must be premised on the effectiveness of such an initiative in terms of benefits to students,' he said. A government spokeswoman for the Financial Secretary's office said: 'Small-class teaching and increasing university places were quoted as examples of demands made by political parties and other organisations during budget consultations. It would not be feasible for the government to commit to long-term spending proposals like these without first considering the need to carry out tax reform and broaden the tax base.'