My Take

It’s time to splash Hong Kong’s cash and improve our lives

A decade of hoarding money while people struggle with rising costs and inadequate social services is a recipe for discontent

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 August, 2017, 1:29am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 August, 2017, 3:11am

If you can’t buy off the opposition with full democracy, you need to pay people off with excellent social care and services. Sadly, our post-1997 government has done both only half way. You give people lots of freedom but not the decisive vote. You offer free or subsidised social services but so many people fall through the social safety net. This is a recipe for discontent and malaise.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor may have finally seen the light. She may not have the authority to give people universal suffrage, but she does have the power to open the public purse and make people’s lives much easier. That’s why it was right to pick her for the top post over John Tsang Chun-wah, our miserly finance chief for a decade.

Hong Kong leader backs proposal to dump ‘miserly’ fiscal philosophy

In Singapore on an official visit, Lam said she agreed with a blog post by her Executive Council adviser Joseph Yam Chi-kwong that the “miserly” fiscal philosophy of the past decade should be abandoned even if increased spending meant temporary deficits. Yam, the former head of the Monetary Authority, is well-known for his intellectual brilliance but also arrogance.

Contrary to Tsang’s rigid adherence to Article 107 of the Basic Law, which appears to bar budget deficits, Yam argues that it doesn’t prohibit counter-cyclical deficits against surpluses over an economic cycle.

It’s not the most literal reading of the article – a style of interpretation that the pan-democrats advocate when it comes to Article 20 and “co-locating” border checkpoints at the future high-speed train terminus. But I bet they won’t object – “end of ‘one country two systems’ blah blah blah” – when a liberal interpretation like Yam’s happens to suit their agenda.

Carrie Lam prepared to reject previous government’s long-term fiscal strategy for Hong Kong

“With Hong Kong experiencing historically slow economic growth rates in the past decade and a strong desire of everybody to invest in the future of Hong Kong and build a more dynamic economy,” he wrote, “the contractionary fiscal stance on the economy after a decade of fiscal surpluses seems inappropriate, if not irresponsible.”

Ouch, that must have hurt, John. Note that the “white elephant” infrastructure crowds will still get their pound of flesh from public land sales.

But remember, we have accumulated massive fiscal surpluses, conservatively estimated at HK$952 billion by next March, not counting other government assets. Any surplus we have after 2047 may be counted as part of the national budget and liable to be taxed. Let’s spend it now.